Interview with Jean Alfieri, Author of Zuggy the Rescue Pug books and Alexandra Ruiz, the series’ illustrator

If you liked the art project of a cute little pug with a butterfly perched on his nose in my last post, you’ll enjoy today’s interview with author, Jean Alfieri, who knows all about pugs, because she’s rescued two! She loves their lap-dog size and cute, mooshed-in faces so much that she’s written a series of picture books about them!

And Jean has a give away! Enter the Pick your Favorite Pug Picture Contest with your vote, and you could win your choice of a Zuggy book!

Now please welcome Jean Alfieri, Award Winning Author of Zuggy the Rescue Pug book series and Alexandra Ruiz, the series illustrator. You’ll enjoy learning more about them, the pugs, Zuggy and Zoey, and these colorful picture books!

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself and how you began writing.

A: I have always loved reading and writing, as far back as I can remember. I entered a short-story contest in 6th grade. That entry was selected to advance to a State competition for my age group and it won!

I had forgotten all about this accomplishment until some 20 years later. I was entrenched in Corporate America when I ran into my former junior high classmate who had also entered that same competition. Her book had taken 2nd place in the State contest.

When she asked what I was doing now, and I told her, she replied with shock and disappointment, “Oh no! You should be writing! I read your story back in 6th grade and it was great!”

I had no idea it had left such a strong impression on her, but those comments started the wheels turning again!

Q: Did you have pets when you were growing up? What pets do you have now?

A: My love of dogs was resisted by my parents for several years. To get around that, I sort-of adopted a couple of the neighbor dogs. We lived in a rural area that was mostly horse farms, so the dogs (an Irish setter and a white lab) traveled a couple acres to visit our house. I made sure it was worth it. We’d make forts, search for frogs and salamanders at the nearby creek, and occasionally I would convince my mom to buy dog biscuits from the store (even though we didn’t have a dog)!

Finally, when I was 7 years old, my parents brought home a handsome red Doberman. Rumble was the joy of my childhood. He was dressed up in nightgowns when I had friends sleep over. I decorated his collar with lilacs each spring. He was pampered and loved but he was no “softy.” He was a fierce protector of me as I grew up.

To date my husband and I have adopted over a dozen senior rescue dogs. (We love the vintage puppies!) Running the house now are: 8-year-old Silly Sally Sue (former Airedale show-dog), 11-year-old Princess Zoey (blind pug), and 15-year-old Sir Reginald (6 lb. toothless chihuahua).

I love the names you give your dogs!

Q: What was your favorite thing to do as a child?

A: Reading was one of my favorite things and my mom and I made weekly trips to our local library. Summer was (and still is) my favorite season. I loved to ride my bike and play in the shade of our front-yard sandbox.

Q: What were some of your favorite childhood books?

A: I couldn’t get enough Dr. Seuss. I was as riveted with the crazy illustrations as I was with the unpredictable word choice and enchanting rhythms of his stories.

One non-Dr. Seuss book that I read repeatedly was “Noisy Nora,” by Rosemary Wells. I reached out to her a couple years ago to thank her for being an inspiration. You can imagine my delight when I heard back from her! In her email she wished me well in my writing journey.

Q: What is something not too many people know about you?

A: I’ve flown in a hot air balloon over a dozen times in 4 different states! (I was part of a hot air balloon chase-crew in my early twenties.)Wow, I bet the view was amazing!

Q: What inspired you to write the Zuggy stories?

A: When my first rescue pug died, I was heart-broken. I adopted him when he was 5 years old and we were blessed with almost 10 years together. I didn’t just miss his physical presence. I worried that all our wonderful stories and his sweet-stubborn personality would be forgotten. So, I started journaling. The more I wrote, the more I cried and laughed and cried again. After a year of writing, I was able to look at those pages from a different perspective. I’d captured some really funny stories. I decided to put a few of them to verse, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Journaling is such a great way to capture memories and emotions, and now others can enjoy those stories, too!Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: Almost every Zuggy story is grounded in some element of real-life, and then I add the proper embellishments to ensure it’s entertaining. You can’t beat real life for great material! My current pug, Princess Zoey, is the new “Zuggy” mascot. She stars in some Zuggy stories as his little sister.Q: Do you have a new Zuggy book in the works?

A: Yes. Zuggy’s newest book, “Spooky-Ooky Stories” will be released in time for summer break, on May 20 – for National Rescue Dog Day!It is a collection of three suspenseful scary stories: 1. The Whispering Ghost 2. Secrets of the Haunted Barn, and 3. Fright Night. Any of the three can be read separately, but they are all related and build on each other.

It looks like a spooky-fun read!

Q: How does your Christian faith impact your writing?

A: No writing would be accomplished without His guiding hand. The ideas aren’t mine. The words I struggle with aren’t mine. I pray for guidance and help when writing, critiquing, and revising. It really feels like a partnership and in many respects, that takes much of the pressure off. I can have fun, knowing the Lord is leading. That isn’t to say it’s not a considerable amount of work. I want to produce the best stories to glorify God.

I pray over the manuscripts before they are sent to my illustrator and again before they go to my print design and lay-out person. Sometimes the stories reflect a Christian theme. Other times they don’t. I believe the right person (child or grown-up) will read the right book at the right time for them.

Q: You volunteer at the Pikes Peak Humane Society. What do you do?

A: I’ve done a variety of jobs over the years. One of my favorites is being a “matchmaker”. I get to introduce people to the dog they’ve selected to meet. It’s heartwarming to see when the relationship clicks, and a connection is made.

Recently, I’ve been making “rescue runs” to pick up dogs from partnering shelters around the State. If there are dogs struggling to be adopted, we drive out and transport them back to Colorado Springs. Our community embraces pet adoption so this provides them a greater chance at finding a forever home.

Being a dog-walker is also great fun. It’s important the dogs get exercise while at the shelter. It’s good for their physical and mental health. The Humane Society welcomes new volunteers. Those interested can find more information at: www.HSPPR.org

What a great idea to volunteer at the Humane Society! I’m sure some of my readers would love to help rescued dogs!

Q: Do you always write in rhyme? Is it hard?

A: I don’t always write in rhyme. In fact, none of the stories I’ve written for various publications that have been selected to be “traditionally” published are in rhyme. Hmmm – maybe that should tell me something!

Creating a story in verse is challenging. That’s what I love about it. It’s like a puzzle and there is only room for the perfect words. The rhythm and rhyme must be compatible to give it the right cadence. Some of Zuggy’s poems have taken years to polish!

Q: What would you like children to take away from your books?

A: The joy of reading. It should be fun, or kids won’t be interested. Poetry is mind-tingling. It helps younger readers learn new words and gain a better command of the language. But all of that is a bonus. I just want them to laugh and keep turning pages!

Just like you and Zoey!

Q: What advice would you give young people who might like to become writers?

A: Life offers an abundance of material …if you pay attention. The struggles and victories you travel through can feed and inspire your writing and help others along their path. Keep your chin up. Writing is not an easy job, but it is one, if it’s truly your passion, that is incredibly fulfilling.

Q: You have 2 new books out that are not part of the Zuggy series. Can you tell us about them?

A: As Zuggy was coming to life from all the stories of my first rescue pug, I realized how much of our personal stories are lost in just a single generation. I wish I knew more about the lives my grandparents led, where and how they met, who influenced them, their dreams and accomplishments, even what they learned from their failures. Sometimes we don’t write down our great memories because we simply don’t know where to start.

I decided to create a guided journal. “Blessed to be Me” is designed to help people capture their great life stories. “Blessed to be Your Dog” was requested by those who bought the first journal! They wanted a dedicated place to celebrate the stories of their fur heroes. As a fellow dog-lover, I completely understood! Both books are filled with a variety of long story-starters and short prompts, coloring pages, inspiring quotes, and plenty of space to write and doodle. They are a fun and easy way to create a treasured keepsake.

These sound like lots of fun and journaling is how you got back to writing!

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your upcoming projects?

A: www.JeanAlfieri.com This site connects to both Zuggy’s website and the website for my guided journals. Readers can connect with me to schedule a Virtual Author Visit (best for first and second graders). There are also links to purchase my books and a Zuggy photo library as well.

Q: Where can readers find your books?

A: They are all available on Amazon. The links are on my website and Zuggy’s: www.ZuggythePug.com   Anyone interested in shopping locally can find them at the Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument, CO. They also carry stuffed Zuggy toys and tote bags, which make great gift packages!

A Zuggy tote bag! How fun!

Q: You have said it was interesting how you met your illustrator.

A: My first book was released through a small publishing company. I was able to select my illustrator but was not allowed to work directly with that person. I had to communicate through my rep.

It was recommended that I create a social media platform not just for me as the author, but for Zuggy, my main character. I was reluctant but was ultimately very happy I did. Turns out, Zuggy’s social media posts are much more popular than mine!

And just a couple month after Zuggy’s FB page was created and the book contract ended (so the publishing rights returned to me), the illustrator found me via Zuggy’s FB page! She introduced herself and said things I knew had to be her! It was so wonderful to finally be able to tell her how much I appreciated her incredible work. We have been working together ever since.

And that brings us to Alexandra Ruiz, who has created the delightful illustrations for your Zuggy books! Welcome, Alexandra!

Q: They’re so colorful, Alexandra. Tell us about the tools you use and who has influenced your artistic style.

A: I use a drawing tablet. It’s a handy tool which enables me to draw on my computer using certain programs such as Photoshop instead of having to draw traditionally on paper and scanning it onto my computer. My art style is basically a mix of Western cartoon and Anime. A huge inspiration for my works is Disney, specifically the works of Glen Keane who was one of the legendary animators who worked on Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and other classic Disney animated films and Aaron Blaise who worked on animating Raja from Aladdin, The Lion King and who also directed Brother Bear.

Q: What are your favorite things to draw?

A: I enjoy drawing portraits of people and making fan art, but I love drawing animals the most! There is just something about their innocence and playfulness that makes me happy when I draw them. I have three cats of my own and they play a huge part of my life as well as my inspirations for my drawings. Zuggy is a very lovable and playful pug and when I illustrate him, I also use one of my cats, Munchkin, as an inspiration because they have very similar personalities and playfulness.

Mary Cassatt, the artist I wrote about to begin this series about dogs, loved to paint people and used her pets as models sometimes, too!

Q: Does your daily work allow you much creative “freedom and flexibility,” or do you illustrate mostly for individual projects?

A: I am currently working as a freelance artist, so my daily schedule is pretty flexible. Fortunately, most clients I work with allow me to have creative freedom. This is great because it lets me think outside the box and with collaboration, I’m happy to know they love the finished work. I also like to constantly update my clients with my progress, that way if they want to have something changed along the way it’s easier to edit before I finalize with coloring.

Q: What else about your work / passion would you like to share?

A: Other than character drawing I’m still practicing on drawing backgrounds and scenery since it’s one of my weakest points. I will admit that there are times I get discouraged seeing other artists’ works that are better than mine, but I like to take that feeling and turn it into inspiration to help me improve.

Growing up, I was that student who filled her notebooks and books with drawings and there were times I was told to “slow down” and focus on more important things. But I think art is just as important as anything else. And especially in these dark times right now, art is one of the things that helps me escape and keep my mind off the negativity happening around us, so I’m glad my art can brighten people’s days.

Q: This is such a great attitude for your work and how you worked to improve! What other advice would you give an aspiring artist?

I’ve had people ask me for tips on how to draw, and I always tell them one thing: to practice. There is no other way to improve than to keep practicing and not let anyone or anything stop you from doing what you love.

Molly and I couldn’t agree more!

And Molly and I thank you both, Jean, and Alexandra, for visiting and telling us and our readers about yourselves, your work, and the wonderful PUG picture books about Zuggy the Rescue Pug!

 If you’d like to learn more about Mary Cassatt, her painting, and her dogs, and enjoy a cute pug art project, please go to these 2 previous blogs. https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/2021/04/10/mary-cassatt-american-impressionist-artist/

https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/2021/04/24/a-fun-and-easy-art-activity-make-a-playful-pug-picture/

 And now to thank all you readers, here’s the Pick your Favorite Pug Picture Contest!

Chomping my Toy / Santa hat /  Toothy smile.

Chomping my Toy

Santa hat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toothy Smile

All entries will be entered to win a “Zuggy the Rescue Pug” book of your choice. The drawing will be held on May 10th, and the winner will be announced and notified via email.

All you have to do is comment and tell us which one you think is the cutest.

You can also send your vote to: ZuggythePug@gmail.com

Please only vote once!

A Fun and Easy Art Activity–Make a Playful Pug Picture

Pugs are playful, little lap dogs, but God created dogs with a huge amount of potential, enabling people to develop breeds to meet many needs from herding, guarding, and service to companionship. Today dogs come in more shapes, sizes, and abilities  than any other mammal species—over 300 recognized breeds worldwide, from tiny chihuahuas to huge Great Danes. Which breed is your favorite?

Mary Cassatt, the American Impressionist artist in my last post, loved little Brussels Griffon dogs, and sometimes added them to her paintings—often in people’s laps. Brussels Griffons were originally bred to hunt rats and mice in stables, but  breeders crossed the Brussels Griffons with other small breeds, including pugs, to create the lap dog you see in Cassatt’s work.

Young Girl at a Window by Mary Cassatt, public domain

Many think the Brussels Griffon looks like an ewok from Star Wars. The pug “force” is strong in that cute, mooshed-in griffon face, So our art activity this month is a fun mixed media art activity about a cute pug who’s asking a butterfly to play

In this post you’ll also find:

  • A list of the ways this activity can contribute to your children’s mental, physical, and social development
  • A list of curriculum connections

Supplies for the Pug

  • Colored paper in browns, tans, grays, black, white, red
  • Scrap paper to make patterns
  • Compass or various sizes of round lids to make circles
  • Pencil, scissors, and glue
  • Crayons or markers

Directions for the Pug (Except for the tongue, every body part begins with a circle)

  1. Using a compass or various round lids, draw a large circle for the pug’s body and a smaller circle for its head
  2. The muzzle or snout is a smaller circle from which you draw and cut a heart shape with the pointy end rounded off (see photo)
  3. The ears also begin as circles. (follow the photo to turn these into ears)
  4. You need two circles for the eyes, one a little bigger than the other
  5. The tail and paws are the same size circles. (follow the photo to make one into the tail)
  6. The nose is a small circle, trimmed to a rounded triangular nose shape
  7. The smallest circle is the white dot for the eyes
  8. The tongue is two straight parallel lines with one end curved
  9. Once you have the patterns made, cut the pug shapes out of the appropriate colors
  10. To get the white edge for the eyes, cut two moe eye circles out of white paper, and then cut each into a quarter moon shape
  11. Glue all the parts together, making sure to slip the eyes and the tongue under the muzzle before the glue dries
  12. Finish with crayon or marker details on paws, under nose, and above eyes

Supplies for the Garden Background and Butterflies

  • Sturdy white paper
  • Watercolor paints and brush
  • Crayons
  • Toothbrush
  • Various colored scraps for the butterflies

Directions for the Garden and Butterflies

  1. With crayons draw shapes for the flowers on the white paper. Press down with the crayons to make heavy lines, but don’t color the flowers in (see photo for shapes or make up your own)
  2. Mix puddles of water and paint and paint right over your crayon lines. Don’t worry if you go outside the lines
  3. Notice that the crayon lines still show (this is called crayon-resist painting)
  4. Let the flowers dry
  5. If you like the speckled look, mix up more watery paint and use a toothbrush to build up as much speckling as you like. You can use several colors.
  6. To make the butterflies, choose several colors and cut into small rectangles
  7. Fold the rectangles in half and draw half of the butterfly’s body against the fold. Then draw the upper and lower wings and one antenna
  8. Cut these out while still folded. Then flatten the body out and fold up each wing

Putting it all together

  1. Glue the pug onto the background garden
  2. Glue the butterflies where ever you’d like
  3. With green crayon draw blades of grass along the bottom, with some coming across the pug’s paws, so it looks as if he’s in the grass.

Now you have a cute pug who wants to play with the butterfly on his nose!

Helpful Hints:

  • Try the speckling on scrap paper first to see if you like it (to speckle, run your finger backwards along the bristles)
  • If you want to be really precise with painting the flowers, use less water, and a smallish brush. The crayon will help you stay in the flower shapes.

Hints for Clean Up:

Wax paper is helpful under things when you spread glue, because it doesn’t stick to the paper AND it keeps globs of glue off your table

Variations:

  • Use big googly eyes for the pug
  • Use colored paper for a background
  • Do a background of wet-in-wet watercolors, letting the paint swirl together

Ways this activity can contribute to your children’s mental, physical, and social development

  • Using crayons and scissors, and other art tools helps children develop fine motor skills.
  • Seeing how to use basic shapes to create a more complex form helps children be more observant.
  • Measuring and using a compass helps with math skills
  • Opportunities to make choices as in this activity, enhances problem-solving skills.
  • Discussing their choices as they work aids in vocabulary and conversational skills.

Curriculum Connections

  • Make a map showing where your favorite breed came from. Tell what it was bred to do.
  • Look up different dog sports, such as herding dog trials, fly ball, agility, etc. List all the words that describe how the dogs move in these sports, such as leap, scurry. See who can come up with the longest list.
  • Some dogs can sniff out diseases. Are certain breeds better at this? Write a report about how the dogs are trained.
  • How are dogs trained as guide dogs or as other service dogs? Make a poster of all the ways dogs help people as service dogs.

Before you leave:

  • Comment and tell us what dog breed is your favorite.
  • Be sure to sign up for my newsletter by clicking on the button at the top right of this post. You’ll get a free, downloadable Guide to Making Art Museum Visits a Fun Masterpiece for the Whole Family! Molly contributed some good ideas to the guide, too!
  • And you can visit my all new website to see the tings we’ve added to help you engage your children’s hearts and hands to discover God in art, history, and Nature.http://www.kathy-oneill.com/

Molly hopes you enjoyed making this cute pug picture. She was kind of disgruntled at first that it wasn’t a picture of her, but she came around.

And don’t forget to come back for our next blog—an interview with a children’s author, who has written a series of picture books about her rescue pugs! They are so cute, and we’ll interview her illustrator, too!

Thanks for stopping by. See you soon!

 

 

More Ways to Enjoy Art, History, and Nature, Visit My All New Website

Molly is so excited, she couldn’t sit still! She wants to tell you about our all new website! Come see its new look  and check out how we can help you engage your children’s hearts and hands to discover God in art, history, and nature!   http://www.kathy-oneill.com/

When you get there, be sure to:

  • Go to the Kids’ Corner and get downloadable coloring pages, puzzles, and how-to-draw lessons.
  • Visit my Workshop page and browse through all new workshops and lessons to engage the hearts and hands of children and adults, either online or in-person.
  • Look at the new pictures on my About page, including one of me as a child with my first dog. See why my present dog, Molly, and I click.
  • Finally, are you and your family ready for summer vacation, after this long year at home? Then be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to help make your family’s visit to an art museum a fun masterpiece!

Molly is packed and ready to go, and she put in lots of her favorite hints, like taking breaks for snacks, so this guide will give your family have a fantastic museum visit!!

You’ll also get my spring newsletter. These newsletters will come just 4 times a year, so sign up so you don’t miss this one with its link to a video from the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands and fun facts about two women who excelled in art and science, becoming models for today’s children.

Molly and I are so thankful for all of you who follow my blog here or on Facebook, and we hope our website will now give you even more ways of Engaging Hearts and Hands to Discover God in . . .

ART,

Rouen Cathdral by Monet, author photo at Musee d’Orsay

HISTORY,and NATURE

 

Also be sure to sign up for our blog and get the next post with a craft about a pug! Molly’s a little jealous, but agreed to a one-time pug craft!

 

Mary Cassatt, American Impressionist Artist

Mary Cassatt, an American, joined the French Impressionists’ exhibitions just 5 years after their very first exhibition in 1874. Edgar Degas had seen some of her paintings at the annual Paris art show and invited Mary to join the Impressionists. The only American and one of only three women, Mary continued exhibiting with the group until 1886.

The post includes:

  • A short bio of Mary Cassatt
  • Information about her paintings
  • Activities to help you and your children enjoy and understand her work
  • A kid-friendly devotion based on the paintings

The Artist

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was born near Pittsburg, but grew up in Philadelphia. When Mary was still a child, her family lived in Europe for several years searching for a cure for Mary’s brother, Robbie, who had bone cancer. When he died, they returned to America.

Even as a child, Mary wanted to become an artist, and despite her father’s objections, entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts when she was just 15. Women students had separate classes from men, and Mary often felt frustrated by this and the lack of great art to study in American museums.

So, like many American artists, when the Civil War ended, Mary traveled to Europe to study art. She eventually settled in Paris. As a woman, Mary couldn’t attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but she studied privately with Ecole masters and spent lots of time copying masterpieces at the Louvre.

When she joined the Impressionists, Cassatt’s art took on many similarities to their work.

Most Impressionists used their families as models and often painted them walking in a field with a parasol, sitting in a garden, or at a luncheon at one of the popular weekend boating resorts along the Seine. But the men could also go to cafes and travel around Paris to capture everyday life.

Mary Cassatt, photo, 1913, public domain

The three women, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, and Marie Bracquemond, couldn’t do these things unaccompanied. Instead they painted the domestic life of women and children, also using family members as models. Mary Cassatt is known and loved today for her beautiful paintings, pastels, and prints of mothers and children.

Reine Lefebre and Margot before a window by Mary Cassatt, public domain

Cassatt lived the rest of her life in France, but never forgot the need of American museums for great art. She advised many wealthy Americans on what paintings to buy for themselves—all with the stipulation they would eventually give their collections to museums. Today, partly through Mary’s efforts, we can see large numbers of Impressionist and other great art at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York, the Chicago Institute of Art, and many smaller museums around the country. American museums also have many works by Cassatt, herself.

The Paintings

Cassatt’s paintings often show figures up close, and once she joined the Impressionists, she began to use brighter colors, lots of light, and shadows full of color. Despite that influence, Mary continued to carefully outline her figures, not dissolving these as some Impressionists did.

Children on a Beach by Mary Cassatt, public domain

Besides the light-filled palette, you see the Impressionist influence in lack of fine detail in women’s dresses and people and flowers in backgrounds.

Young Mother Sewing by Mary Cassatt, public domain

Quite often Mary’s paintings of women and children include a dog called a Brussels Griffon. Mary fell in love with these little dogs and owned several during her life. These little dogs were first used to hunt down rats and mice in stables, but also gradually became pets. People found them to be sensitive and lovable, but they do need lots of exercise and can be somewhat stubborn to train.

Young Girl at a Window by Mary Cassatt, public domain

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore Mary’s Paintings

  • Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.
  • These paintings by Mary Cassatt are great for telling stories. Ask children what they think is happening in each painting, and how the people are feeling, or what they’re talking about.

 Devotion—God’s faithfulness

  1. Ask children to say or list some of the traits that make dogs good pets for many people, such as friendly, loyal, fun to play with, devoted, etc.
  2. If they don’t come up with faithfulness, help them focus on that trait
  3. Look up some synonyms for faithfulness.
  4. Briefly tell one or two stories about faithful dogs from history or literature, such as Lassie Come Home or The Incredible Journey, in which dogs brave many dangers to return to their beloved families.
  5. There are many such stories about the faithfulness of dogs, and for that reason, they’re often used in paintings to symbolize faithfulness.
  6. Though dogs are known and loved for their faithfulness, we know God is even more faithful to love us, care for us, and keep His promises.
  7. Together read some of these verses and talk about all the ways the Lord is our faithful God:
  •      Deuteronomy 7:9
  •      Deuteronomy 32:4
  •      Psalm 25:10
  •      Psalm 33:4
  •      Psalm 57:10
  •      Psalm 89:14
  •      Psalm 91:4
  •      Psalm 145:13-20
  •      Psalm 146:6-10
  •      1 Corinthians 10:13
  •      1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
  •      Hebrews 10:23
  •      1 Peter 4:19
  •      1 John 1:9

Have children write a prayer using words from some of these verses and decorate it to put on the fridge or send to a loved one.

Together watch and enjoy  Lassie Come Home, The Incredible Journey, or another story about a faithful dog!

Before You Go:

3 Things you might like to do:

Click the button to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide called, How to Make Your Art Museum Visit a Masterpiece for Your Whole Family!

If you like the new look for my blog, check out my all new and helpful website at:http://www.kathy-oneill.com/

To read “Red, Yellow, and Blue, Let Art Refresh Your Children and You,” my post on the parenting blog, In the Quiver, follow this link. You’ll find more ideas about how art can help your child’s overall development and some fun activities to do togetherhttps://inthequiver.com/

______________________________________

Molly, my faithful little artsy corgi and I hope you enjoyed learning about Mary Cassatt and most of all about the faithfulness of our God!! Please come back next time for an art activity related to Mary Cassatt’s work.

 

 

 

 

Refresh Spring 2021 Issue Now Available

The Spring issue of Refresh, “Don’t Be Afraid,” is now available! In it are wonderful Bible studies, devotions, and poems with insights to help us see how God helps us when we’re afraid.

I’ve gotten to know many of these writers over the last year, and know you’ll be encouraged by their insights.

This issue also includes my Bible study, titled Rising on the Wings of the Dawn, about how God helped me conquer my fear of flying and can help each of us with the daily fears we face.

So I hope you’ll follow the link to the Spring  Refresh issue to enjoy many great studies and devotions. And it’s absolutely free!

https://mcusercontent.com/d56d783b628cb25e0234a8678/files/e9899f2c-3203-4045-8168-a2c8615b26eb/Refresh_Spring_2021.pdf

Let’s Make an Easter Card with Tulips and 3-D Butterflies

Maria van Oosterwyck loved to paint tulips and butterflies—tulips for spring and butterflies for Christ’s resurrection! So let’s make an Easter card masterpiece with tulips and 3-D butterflies in a Delft pot!

But before you begin your masterpiece, follow this link to my website, where you can sign up for my brand new newsletter and receive a free booklet to help you Make Museum Visits a Masterpiece for Your Family!   http://www.kathy-oneill.com/

Now Let’s get started.

You’ll need these supplies:

  • White construction paper
  • Cardstock in various colors
  • Watercolor paper if you have it, if not, cheap white paper plates will work
  • Scrap paper for patterns
  • Crayons and markers
  • Glue stick or white glue
  • Scissors, ruler, pencil
  • Watercolor set and brushes
  • Wax paper or plastic cloth to protect surfaces from paint and glue

Directions: because there are several steps to making this project, I’ve divided the steps into 7 short sections  (A-G) for clarity.

A. To make beautifully-colored paper for the tulips and butterflies, follow these steps:

  1. Make puddles of several colors of paint and water. Use enough water so paint will flow and enough pigment so colors will be bright on the paper.
  2. Using a flat brush, wet your watercolor paper or paper plates with clear water. Don’t saturate them, but be sure the surface has a good sheen of water.
  3. With brushes or even a spoon, add paint from the puddles to your paper or plate and allow these to swirl together and mix. It’s fun to swirl the paint on the paper or plates, but stop before your colors mix too much.
  4. Let dry.
  5. Repeat steps 1-3 on the backside of the paper or plate.
  6. Set these water-colored papers aside to dry.

 B. To make patterns for butterflies, tulips, and the pot, follow these steps:

  1. Cut and fold scrap paper squares of the appropriate size in half.
  2. Draw half of each object, then cut with the square folded. This gives you symmetrical objects (see photos).
  3. If you’re making a card, the pot needs to have a fairly long, straight side for the fold.

C. To make the card, follow these steps:

  1. Fold in half the colored cardstock you’ll use for the card.
  2. Place your unfolded pattern up against the fold line of the colored cardstock and cut out the pot-shaped card, cutting through both layers of cardstock.
  3. Now cut the pot pattern piece a little smaller all around and use this smaller pattern to cut out a front for the pot from the white construction paper.
  4. Cut another piece of white construction paper for the inside message, in whatever shape you’d like

D. To make the green stems and leaves, follow these steps:

  1. Cardstock is really best for this, and you may need to glue 2 stem pieces together to provide a stiff enough stem for the tulips.
  2. Draw or make patterns or cut freehand several stems and leaves (see photos for shapes)

E. To make the Delft designs on the pot, follow these steps:

  1. Use a pencil to lightly draw whatever designs you’d like on the white paper pot (repeat some of these on the inside paper, see photo)
  2. If you remember from the previous post, Delft designs are blue on a white background.
  3. Depending on the age of your children these designs can be simple or more detailed. I’ve included both and also the easy way to make some of the more intricate designs.(The red lines are what are added to complete the designs)
  4. If using watercolor paints, go over the pencil lines with blue crayon so it’s easier to keep the paint inside the designs.
  5. Use much less water when mixing paint for this small painting, and do not wet the paper.
  6. Once the papers are dry add an Easter message to the inside paper.

F. To make the tulips and butterflies, follow these steps:

  1. Use your patterns to cut tulips and butterflies from the water-colored paper or flat portion of the paper plates.
  2. Cut double the number of tulips you want if you don’t want the stems to show.
  3. Use crayon or marker to color the body of the butterflies.
  4. I liked these watercolor butterflies, but found they didn’t contrast enough with the pot, so…
  5. In the end I used orange cardstock and black marker to make some stylized monarch butterflies (see the photo).

G. To assemble the card follow these steps:

  1. Have an adult use an x-acto knife to make a slit along the lip of the Delft “pot” paper (see photo).
  2. Insert your stems and leaves through the slit and arrange these in the way you’d like.
  3. Apply glue to each stem and leaf and stick to the back of the Delft “pot.”
  4. Now apply glue to the back of the Delft “pot” and attach this to the front of the pot-shaped card (the stems and leaves will now look as if they are coming from inside the pot).
  5. Glue the other white piece of paper on the inside of the card.
  6. Glue each pair of tulips pieces together with the top of a stem in between (see photo).
  7. Fold the butterflies so one wing can stick up.
  8. Apply glue to the butterfly’s body and the back of one wing and place these where you’d like them (I put one inside and one on the front).
  9. Let all the glue dry completely before closing the card.

Helpful Hints:

  • You can also just cut away the top part of the Delft “pot’s” oval and then glue as explained above
  • Score around the butterfly’s body to make the wings fold more easily
  • When you close the card, make sure the inside butterfly’s unglued wing is folded up.

Clean up Hints:

Wax paper under objects as you apply glue protects surfaces and helps prevent things from sticking where they shouldn’t.

 Variations:

  • Skip the painting, and use colored paper for the tulips or have children color these with crayon or maker.
  • Use markers or crayons for the blue Delft designs also.
  • Instead of a card, make the project and attach to a colored background for a poster to hang.

Now that you’ve created your masterpiece, Molly and I hope you’ll follow this link to my website, where you can sign up for my brand new newsletter and receive a free booklet to help you Make Museum Visits a Masterpiece for Your Family!    http://www.kathy-oneill.com/

 

Link

Maria van Oosterwyck was a well-known and successful flower painter during the Dutch Golden Age of Painting, but as a woman, she couldn’t even join the artists’ guild.

Read on to learn about Maria and her beautiful flower still lifes, and why they’re called Vanitas paintings.

 This post includes 5 things about Maria and her work:

  • A bio of Maria van Oosterwyck
  • Information about Maria’s paintings, and how tulipmania and red admiral butterflies figure in her work
  • Activities to help you and your children enjoy the paintings
  • A kid-friendly devotion based on the paintings
  • At the end is some background information. It’s not essential to enjoy Maria’s art, but it will help you better understand the art of this time and give you curriculum connections for this series.

The Artist

Portrait of Maria van Oosterwyck holding a Bible and a paint palette, by Wallerant Vaillant, public domain

Maria van Oosterwyck was born in a small town near Delft in 1630. Both her father and grandfather were Protestant ministers, and Maria’s faith was central to her life and work. No one knows for sure where she first learned to paint. We do know that later Maria lived in several other cities and studied with flower and still life artists. In 1666 she moved to Amsterdam and set up her own studio.

Despite having to work and sell outside the artist’s guild, Maria sold paintings for high prices. In 1669 Cosimo d’Medici bought one of her paintings, bringing her international attention.  Kings of France, England, and the Holy Roman Emperor all bought her paintings.

Maria never married, dedicating herself to her art. After retiring in 1690, she went to live with a nephew who was a minister. She died at his home near Amsterdam in 1693.

Although not widely known today, Maria van Oosterwyck’s paintings appear in many museum collections.

The Paintings 

Maria followed the Netherlandish traditions of close observation of details and attention to the effects of light on objects. She loved to show reflections in glass, the nubbly texture of leather book covers, and the sheen of satin ribbon. Maria’s portrayal of plants and insects is accurate enough for a naturalist’s work.

Roses and Butterfly by Maria van Oosterwyck, Crocker Art Museum, public domain

Look at Maria’s paintings and see how items emerge from the shadows of the dark background and so appear even brighter. We see this same dramatic use of light and shadow in the work of Rembrandt, Maria’s contemporary. Also notice the light blue reflection of a window in the glass vase.

Flower Still Life by Maria van Oosterwyck, Cincinnati Art Museum, public domain

Maria applied paint thinly and blended colors into one another. She liked to put complementary colors next to each other to increase contrast–red flowers behind green leaves, yellow flowers next to violet flowers, and blue and orange flowers next to each other.

Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase by Maria van Oosterwyck, Denver Art Museum, public domain

Go to this link and enlarge  Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, to see these details.https://www.denverartmuseum.org/en/edu/object/bouquet-flowers-vase

The Dutch loved variety in still lifes, so most flower paintings have flowers from different seasons. Maria studied and drew the flowers when they were in season, then put them together in the final paintings.

Tulipmania: in the 1600s flowers were rare and expensive. Seeds and bulbs had to be imported, so only wealthier people could afford flower gardens.

  • Flowers, especially tulips, became a status symbol. When Maria was a child, tulip bulbs that might produce striped or speckled petals became so popular, that prices rose to crazy levels–as much as a house. The stripes and speckles were actually caused by a fungus on the bulbs!
  • Tulipmania lasted only a short time, but a few people lost small fortunes speculating with tulip bulbs!
  • Flower paintings were much more affordable, and the flowers didn’t die. Notice that Maria often has a red-striped tulip—one of the really expensive kinds—in her still lifes.

Vanitas Paintings

With her flowers, Maria often included glassware, musical instruments, coins, globes, shells, books, insects, and skulls. Each item shows careful attention.

Vanitas-Still Life by Maria van Oosterwyck, Kunsthistorisches Museum, public domain

Vanitas with Sunflower and Jewelry Box by Maria van Oosterwyck, public domain

Because of trade many could afford luxuries, such as oranges, furs, and porcelain from around the world. These paintings showed off the wealth of the Dutch during the 1600s.

But they did more. When a still life had insects, skulls, chewed leaves, half-eaten foods, wilted flowers,etc., it became a Vanitas—a painting meant to remind viewers that life and worldly possessions are fleeting.

Maria went a step further, almost always including a red admiral butterfly to lead you into the painting and represent the resurrection of Christ and eternal life for those who believe in Him.

Red Admiral Butterfly: the red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), along with the related painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) are among the most common butterflies in the world.

  • They live on every continent except Antarctica.
  • They’re medium-sized butterflies whose caterpillars can live on many different plants.
  • Admirals and painted ladies migrate, but they have kind of a rolling migration. As winter approaches, they begin flying south laying eggs as they go. Soon those eggs hatch and that generation continues south, and so on until some reach warmer places where they live and breed year round. When spring arrives, the process reverses, and they repopulate northern climates. Some years they leave or arrive in such large groups that they show up on weather radar.

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore these Beautiful Paintings

  • I always like to first ask children what they think is going on in a painting, and what tells them that. This grabs their interest and makes them feel their ideas are valuable. You’ll often be surprised by their observations. And you can enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.
  • Play an I Spy game to find butterflies, foods, books, different flowers, reflections, etc.
  • Or, try this fun activity: have children look at the painting briefly, then turn away and tell all the things they remember. With a group have each one write down what they remember and then compare answers.

Devotion

Ask children what things the Dutch liked to include in still lifes. Remind them that flowers and other items in Maria’s still lifes were luxuries and so became very important. Then have them gather or draw things they would put in a still life to tell important things about themselves and why.

  1. Discuss how our interests, skills, and possessions are all gifts from God.   “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV)
  2. Discuss how these should be used to love God and our neighbors.   “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mathew 22:37-39 NIV)
  3.  What is one way they could use a skill or possession to show love to another?
  4. Ask children what things in each of Maria’s Vanitas paintings remind us material things don’t last.  ” The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV)
  5. Then ask what they might put in their still life as reminders that life is fleeting—a broken toy, an insect perched on a bowl of cereal, etc.
  6. Maria also put in a butterfly to stand for Christ’s resurrection and eternal life for those who believe in Him. Discuss with children why a butterfly has long been a symbol of the resurrection.

    author photo of swallowtail butterfly perched on lilacs

Here’s some information about butterflies that may help your discussion:   At one time people didn’t know about the life cycle changes of insects, frogs, etc. But during Maria van Oosterwyck’s life, many were studying and learning more about nature. Another woman artist who also lived in the Netherlands at this time, studied and painted butterflies, helping people learn about their life cycle.

  • Maria Sybylla Merian

    Maria Sibylla Merian
    public domain, wikimedia

    proved that a butterfly begins as an egg, hatches into a hungry caterpillar, and then forms a chrysalis to complete the change into a butterfly.

    Maria Sibylla Merian’s work
    public domain, wikimedia

    You can learn more about her life and work in this post I wrote in June of 2018, called, Artists/Naturalists: Maria Sybilla Merian and Titian Ramsay Peale II.

Chrysalis, public domain

  • Scientists now know the change from caterpillar to butterfly is even more profound than anyone thought. Inside each chrysalis a caterpillar actually liquifies and every part is completely rearranged to produce a butterfly.The caterpillar, which is often ugly and must crawl along leaves, becomes a beautiful new creation that can fly!
  • If you’ve never raised caterpillars and watched this process, you and your children will love it! Order monarch, red admiral, or painted lady caterpillars online and watch them grow, form chrysalises, and emerge as adults. Then enjoy releasing them to fly away into the sky, just as Jesus did at His ascension!!!

What a wonderful and amazing picture for us of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and our resurrection into eternal life! Here are some verses to read together:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:20 NIV).

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight (Acts 1:9 NIV).

For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. Tor the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality . . . (1 Cor. 15:52b-54a NIV).

Prayer  Heavenly Father, thank you for Your Word, which endures forever and teaches us about Jesus our Savior, and His death and resurrection. Thank you that one day we will be resurrected also, and you’ve given us such an amazing picture of that transformation in butterflies! In Jesus’ name, amen.

Historical Background  

Some background of the religious, political, economic, and art history of the Netherlands is helpful to understand the amazing Golden Age of Dutch art and Maria’s work. I’ve just given brief descriptions. Homeschoolers may wish to use these as jumping off places for more research for reports, diaries, plays, charts, timelines, etc.

Dutch Faith   Important forerunners of the Reformation came from the Netherlands.

  • The Beguines were women who banded together in cites and towns to study Scripture and volunteer as teachers and nurses for the poor. Many groups formed in the Netherlands in the 1200s.

    Drawing of a Beguine from Des dodes dantz, printed in Lubeck, 1489, public domain

  • The Brethren of the Common Life opened schools and printed Bibles and other books from the 1300s on. The Netherlands had a higher literacy rate than many other European countries. Thomas a Kempis, who wrote The Imitation of Christ, was a member of this group.
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam (1467-1536) wrote of the need for religious reform and produced the first Greek New Testament.

When the Reformation began, Protestantism really took hold in the Netherlands, but persecution followed:

Dutch Independence    Charles V (the same one who presided over Luther’s trial in Germany) and later his son Philip II ruled the Netherlands as part of their empire. They were determined to stamp out Protestantism in the Netherlands. Terrible persecution killed many, and the Dutch rebelled to gain religious and political freedom. The war was long and harsh. Sometimes the Dutch opened dykes to flood farmland or burned crops as part of the fight. One group of fighters known as the Sea Beggars helped win battles against the Spanish fleet.

Battle of Haarlem by Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, public domain

Dutch Economy    After independence in the early 1600s, trade and commerce grew rapidly in the Netherlands. Dutch traders traveled to Asia and America. They established the colony of New Amsterdam (New York) in 1624. They brought back spices, furs, Turkish rugs, and silks, making the Dutch among the wealthiest people in Europe.

One much-loved luxury was Chinese porcelain, especially the blue and white-patterned vases and table ware. Eventually the Dutch learned the art of making this and today “Delft” dishes and vases are still very popular! Which one of van Oosterwyck’s still lifes has a blue and white piece?

author photo

 

Dutch Art   Oil paints were first invented and used by early Netherlandish artists, such as Jan van Eyck. Northern European artists became masters of close observation of every detail and loved to show how light reflected off glass or metal. They carefully painted every facet of a jewel or the softness of a fur collar.

Protestant churches no longer commissioned art, but independence and trade enabled ordinary Dutch people to buy paintings. They loved to decorate their homes and businesses with still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and scenes of everyday life. Dutch artists often specialized in one type or another, and the Golden Age of Dutch Art was born. It encompassed most of the 1600s, and some of the most famous artists—Rembrandt, Ruisdael, and Vermeer!

Molly and I hope you enjoyed learning about Maria van Oosterwyck and all the amazing events that surround the artists of the Golden Age of Dutch Art! Comment and tell us what you found most interesting or enjoyable.

And we hope to see you right back here soon for a fun art activity about tulips and butterflies!

Make a Zig Zag Book to Tell about Your Family

Let’s make a zig zag book to tell how your family is special! Each family is unique. One family may love skiing in the mountains, and another might especially enjoy visiting historic sites. Some families have lived in the same place for years, while others may move a lot. Each family also has a unique history, with stories, favorite foods, and traditions passed down from grandparents, great grandparents, and even farther back.

For example, I grew up in a small town on the coast of Maine. Saturday night always meant baked beans and brown bread, made with lots of molasses. Special meals included lobsters, clams, corn on the cob, and blueberry pie—sometimes cooked and eaten at the beach. Waves crashing on the rocks, beach roses, and lighthouses say home to me.My father’s ancestors had come to this town several hundred years before, perhaps as fishermen. But by the 1800s most managed general stores or other small rural businesses. On my mother’s side were farmers, and I loved my great grandfather’s barn where black and white cows chomped on sweet hay, and a big coon cat named Fluffy, hunted mice in the dark corners.

What makes your family special? Where have you’ve lived? What foods does your family make for special events? What pets do you have? What fun activities does your family enjoy? What holiday traditions do you have? What are your family’s favorite books and movies? Do you have stories about your family history?

Let’s get started making a zig-zag booklet to record all the things that make your family unique.

 Supplies for the Zig Zag Booklet and decorating it

  • Construction paper in two colors
  • Scissors, pencil, ruler, glue stick or white glue
  • ribbon
  • Be creative! Have fun. Gather and use many materials.
  • Use paper scraps, yarn, glitter, stickers, leaves, buttons, fabric. The sky’s the limit!
  • Use crayons, pencils, markers, or paints, whatever you want!

Directions for the Zig Zag Booklet

  1. Measure and cut 3 pieces of one color of construction paper (I used blue) into 3 pieces 6” X 12”
  2. Repeat with the other color (I used green)
  3. Fold each of the 6 pieces in half
  4. Choose one color to be the front and cut one of its 3 pieces in half along the fold (I used blue)
  5. Cut 4 pieces of ribbon, each about 7” long
  6. Begin putting together the folded pieces of construction paper, alternating the 2 colors. Start with one cut piece of blue which will be glued to the green’s outside front fold. Then glue one side of a blue piece to the inside back of that first green piece. Notice the green piece folds toward you and the blue piece folds towards the back. (see the diagram and photos)
  7. Continue this pattern until you get to the 2nd blue half piece and glue this to the inside front of the last green piece. (see the diagram)
  8. Check that you have created a zig zagging length before gluing
  9. Also be sure to lay the 4 pieces of ribbon in between the correct layers of paper (see the diagram) before gluing those layers together.
  10. Glue and let dry

When all done, you can fold up the booklet and tie the ribbons.

Directions for decorating the cover

  • I decided to make a house on my cover and used scraps of colored paper to make its windows, door, roof, and bushes. Don’t forget the door knob! If you decide to make a house, you might draw a picture of family members in the windows or glue in photos of them.
  • But you can do whatever you’d like with crayons, paint, fabric, etc. and you may want to put a title on the cover, too. You might use stamps or watercolor paints to decorate the cover. Here are some ideas from previous posts: bubble prints, cardboard tube prints, leaf prints, paint designs made by blowing with a straw, painting with a cardboard strip, watercolor paints, and prints made from finger painting. All these techniques are explained in earlier posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas for doing the pages

  • While you’re making your zig zag booklet, write or email your grandparents if you have questions about your family history.
  • Also during this time, interview family members for their favorites, etc.
  • Here are some suggestions of things to put on the pages of your booklet:
  • Family history
  • Places you’ve lived
  • Favorite foods
  • Pets
  • Favorite books and movies
  • Favorite Bible verses
  • Things your family likes to do together
  • Use pictures and/or lists to tell these things. You can write or type information on a piece of white paper and glue it to the colored paper. Use special computer fonts for titles

Variations:

  • If you’d like a more easily-made booklet, take one long piece of paper and fold it back and forth to create the zig zags.
  • Instead of each person making a booklet, make a family booklet with family pages and individual pages for each member.
  • Although younger children will need help making a zig zag booklet, once that’s done, they can certainly enjoy coloring and decorating the pages.

Molly hopes you enjoy making a zig zag booklet about what makes your family and each individual in it, unique! We’re sure you and your family will treasure it!

Molly wasn’t sure she liked wearing a beret in this photo! But she’s sure you’ll enjoy our next posts about a nature artist and a fun and easy art activity about nature.

 

Children’s Author, Becky van Vleet and Courtney Smith, Illustrator, Talk about Becky’s Newest Picture Book

Today I’m happy to introduce you to my friend, Becky van Vleet, a children’s author and Courtney Smith, illustrator of Becky’s books. Becky loves to pass down family stories and traditions to her grandchildren, just as we saw the grandfather doing in my previous post about the painting, The Banjo Lesson.

In this interview Becky and Courtney tell a little about Becky’s books and offer advice for young writers and artists who might be interested in writing and /or illustrating books!

Welcome Becky!

 I love your 1st story about Talitha, a little skirt that over the years, travels to several little girls.  And in the 2nd, Harvey, the Traveling Harmonica, about a boy, his dog, and a harmonica, also travels to several generations! Molly, my corgi, loves that there’s a dog in each book!

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

A: Thank you, Kathy, for featuring me. I am a retired teacher/principal. My husband and I make our home in Colorado Springs where I enjoy spending time with my family, lap swimming, oil painting, hiking and biking, and eating cotton candy. I especially enjoy reading books to our grandchildren. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I never set out to do anything with it until retirement. With a little more time, kind of, I connected my ideas to my computer and ran with it which resulted in my first published children’s picture book in 2019.

Q: I understand this book is the second in a series. Can you tell us a little about the first book and any others you have planned?

A: Yes, Harvey, the Traveling Harmonica, is the second book in my “traveling” series. I was inspired to write my first book, Talitha, the Traveling Skirt, because we had a little skirt that had been traveling around in our family for three generations, for more than 70 years. This was such a fun project for me with many family memories attached.

That sounds like so much fun! 

Q: Do you have a theme that carries through your writing!

A: My third “traveling” book is already under contract and the fourth one will follow. The common theme of all four of these picture books is that an inanimate object becomes the main character and travels through three generations.

Q: What inspired you to write your stories?

A:  I would say it’s my passion to create and preserve family memories and traditions as well as sharing family stories. In fact, my website is devoted to this. Check it out! https://www.beckyvanvleet.com. If any of you who are reading this would like to share a family memory or tradition, please get in touch with me!

Q: How does your Christian faith encourage you in your writing and influence your stories?

A:  My call to writing is just that. I have been called by God to write. I pray about my writing endeavors and I really feel that keeps me humble. When I write, I want to give back something to the reading community that is truth, noble, pure, lovely, and of good report. (Philippians 4:8 NKJV)

Q: I know you’re a mom, a grandmother, and a teacher like me. Do you have any suggestions to help parents enjoy your books with their children?

A: I have a very simple, yet profound, suggestion. Just read, read, read! I can’t emphasize that enough. Read books aloud, encourage independent daily reading. I believe in this so much that it should be like brushing your teeth—read every day!

“Read, read, read!” Yes!!! Molly and I agree with that!

 Q: What would you like children to take away from your books?

A:  I would like children to hear a message of working through conflict and coming out on the other side in a good way. All of my books have a theme of family life and traditions, so I’d like children to understand and appreciate these themes.

Q: What advice would you give young people who might like to become writers?

A: My advice for young writers is to write, write, write. (Does this sound familiar to read, read, read?) I would encourage the very young ones to write and draw and share their work with family members. For the older ones, I would encourage them to attend a writing conference, buy books about tips for writing, and share their ideas aloud with family members.

Q: Where can we learn more about you and your upcoming projects?

A:  My website is: https://www.beckyvanvleet.com

Q: Where can our readers find your books?

A:  On Amazon:

Talitha, the Traveling Skirt:  https://amzn.to/3qpG1fI

Harvey, the Traveling Harmonica:  https://amzn.to/3nUh7CL

Roxie, the Traveling Rocker:  Stay Tuned!

Wally, the Traveling Watch:  Stay Tuned!

 Welcome to you, too, Courtney! The Illustrations are such an important part of picture books!

I love all the details you put in your illustrations, and my corgi, Molly, especially loves your illustrations of the dogs in each book!

 Q: Please tell us a little about yourself.

A: My name is Courtney Smith. My husband and I live in Franktown, CO with our five children ages 16 down to 8. I am a full-time homeschool mom and a part-time Athletic Trainer mostly working with our USA Wrestling teams (when things are not shut down). I also breed Great Pyrenees puppies and love to draw and scribble.

Q: How long have you been illustrating children’s books?

A: Creating fine art was a passion which helped me stay sane throughout my college years. (I have a triple major in Math, Chemistry, and Computer Science and a minor in Fine Art). That background provided me with the opportunity to illustrate my first children’s picture book in 2019. Since then, I have finished 12 more picture books and devotions and have some in progress.

Q: What is your process when you receive a book project to illustrate?

A: The most important step I take is to ask the Lord for peace about the project and wisdom to know if I’m the best illustrator for the job. Then, I like to read the manuscript to see what images fly into my imagination without knowing anything of the author’s vision. Are the pictures created in my mind realistic, whimsical, or cartoon style? Are they colorful, dark, heavy or light? Most authors send their proposal with ideas for what the images on each spread could be. Does my vision or ideas align with the author’s ideas for their story?

Not only do I want to create a book I’m proud to promote, but I also want the author to love the images that will bring his work to life. Even if the author and I seem to be on the same track, I like to sketch out a spread so the author can see what my idea or vision is. I want my author to be entirely confident that my working for him or her is God’s will and provide the opportunity to either jump in with both feet or kindly decline partnering with me. If we both want to continue as a team, we will agree upon compensation, sign a contract, and begin the adventure.

Q: What part of illustrating do you enjoy the most?

A: I really enjoy working with the authors and am most gratified when they are excited about the images I create. I had the opportunity to work with Becky Van Vleet early on for Talitha the Traveling Skirt. We live close and were able to meet in person to chat about the book. Along with the two of us, the children’s book editor from Becky’s publishing house was there as well. Together, we were able to pare down the manuscript and tell much of the story with the images, which is always better when creating a children’s picture book. Because I was able to feel Becky’s passion for her story, I was able to shape the images to tell the story using meaningful tid-bits from Becky’s photos and memories.

Q: What medium did you use for the illustrations of this book?

A: Currently, I do all my illustrations on my computer using my Wacom tablet and Corel Painter’s software. Using this program, I can select many different mediums from pen and ink, to watercolor, and oils and acrylics.

Q: What advice do you have for young people who may be interested in art and illustrating?

A: Go for it! When I was contracted for my first project, I was terrified. But God is faithful and with each story, I have gained both skill and confidence. I would highly recommend a wacom tablet for beginners. The model I use is smaller than a sheet of paper but allows me versatility and convenience. I am able to choose canvas size from the beginning to make uploading or sharing more streamlined for the editor.

Q: Where can our readers see more of your work?

A: With the exception of one story, all of my projects are available through Amazon.

2020’s publications include:

Harvey the Traveling Harmonica by Becky Van Vleet,

I Hate Oatmeal by Jan Lis,

Benny Learns a Lesson by Cheryl Johnson,

Fairy Tales & Faith by Antwan Houser,

Mayflower Marty by Luann Hamill,

High-water Hattie by Shelley Pierce

Thank you, Becky and Courtney, for taking the time to tell about your work and these wonderful books that highlight the love and joy we have in our families!

 Molly and I are looking forward to the next two books in the Traveling series!

Please join us for our next post that has a fun art activity to highlight the special things about Your family!

Henry Ossawa Tanner, African American Artist of Many Firsts 

Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first African American artist to become a full academician of France’s National Gallery of Design. He continued getting awards even after his death, becoming the first African American artist to have a major solo exhibition in the United States (in 1969 at the Smithsonian). And in 1996, Tanner’s painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City, was bought for the White House, the first painting by an African American to be added to that collection.

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City by Henry O. Tanner, public domain

Henry Ossawa Tanner won numerous other awards and honors and has paintings in many museum collections. But success didn’t come first in the United States.

The post includes:

  • Information about Henry Ossawa Tanner
  • Information about his painting, The Banjo Lesson
  • Activities to help you and your children enjoy and understand The Banjo Lesson
  • A kid-friendly devotion based on the painting

The Artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner, photograph, public domain

Born in 1859, Henry grew up mainly in Philadelphia. His father was a minister and eventually a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his mother, a teacher, had escaped from slavery on the Underground Railway.

In 1872 when he was just 13, Henry Ossawa Tanner saw a landscape artist at work in Fairmount Park. This large, scenic park stretches along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia and includes land once belonging to William Penn, the founder of the city. Henry stopped to watch and decided he wanted to be an artist.

Largely self-taught at first, Henry spent hours painting in Philadelphia’s zoo and at its waterfront, but when he graduated high school, his father apprenticed him to work in a flour mill. Henry had always been small and frail, and work in the mill made him so sick he had to quit and recover at home.

In later life, he credited his artistic abilities to his poor health, because he spent his recovery time painting. But Henry wanted formal training, and in 1879 he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and studied under Thomas Eakins. He was the only African American student.

When Henry went out on his own, though, he found it difficult to succeed,  because so few were willing to give work to an African American artist. During this time, he traveled in North Carolina, painting ordinary people and their lives. His paintings showed African Americans with dignity.

After selling some paintings, he traveled to study in Paris as so many Americans did in the late 1800s. Tanner loved Paris and its art and was especially thankful to find more opportunity and less discrimination. He married another American living in Paris, and together they made Paris their home, only returning to America for visits.

Tanner painted landscapes and many scenes of ordinary French life as he had in North Carolina,

The Young Sabot Maker by Henry O. Tanner, public domain

but eventually turned more and more to religious subjects. He took several long trips to study and paint in the Middle East, because he wanted to show real people in authentic settings. He once said he, “preached with his brush.” He won awards with his religious works and was one of the first African American artists to win international fame.

I posted his Annunciation and The Annunciation to the Shepherds for my Christmas post. But for today’s post we’re going to look at another of Tanner’s famous paintings, The Banjo Lesson, probably painted during a trip home to Philadelphia.

The Painting, The Banjo Lesson

While studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Tanner came to love the art of Rembrandt. He shared the Dutch artist’s faith and appreciated his many portraits of Jesus as well as other biblical subjects. Tanner also loved the way Rembrandt used light and shadow to create drama in his paintings. Probably above all, Tanner wanted, like Rembrandt, to show the emotions and character of his subjects and give dignity to everyday people and their work.

Tanner’s studies in France added lighter colors—cool blues and warm yellows and reds—and sometimes looser and more expressive brush strokes to his style. But Tanner never changed his focus on a realistic, sympathetic portrayal of his subjects, whether it was a landscape or people.

Jesus and Nicodemus by Henry O. Tanner, public domain

Tanner continued to experiment with how to use light to create atmosphere and heighten a painting’s message as in The Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel is shone as a pillar of light. Notice how the light forms a cross with the shelf high on the wall.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, American, 1850-1937,Philadelphia Museum of Art, public domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We see all these influences in The Banjo Lesson

The Banjo Lesson by Henry O. Tanner, public domain

  • A realistic and quiet genre scene of everyday life
  • Lights and shadows to highlight the subjects, who are treated with dignity
  • A sympathetic portrayal of the loving bond and interaction between the boy and his grandfather.

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore this Beautiful Painting

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.

The Banjo Lesson is both a sensitive portrait of a man and boy and a quiet story about them. Use these questions to enjoy it together:         

  • Have the man and boy just finished a meal? What would make us think that?
  • What are the 2 light sources? (Window and fireplace)
  • How does Tanner use the light to focus our attention on the faces and hands of the boy and man?
  • Notice how the man’s hands mirror the child’s hands and look ready to help only if needed
  • Ask children to use their 5 senses to explore the painting. Would they hear hesitant notes from the banjo or a flowing tune? Would they feel warmth from the fire? Would they smell coffee or other foods? Is the floor rough or smooth?
  • What do the objects tell about the people? hat, frying pan, rough cloth on table, simple chair, etc. (Play a game with children: have them look at the painting for a minute and then turn around and tell you all the things they remember)
  • Are these people wealthy or poor? What makes us think this?
  • Are these people related? What makes us think this?
  • What words would describe the man? The boy? Encourage children to go beyond physical appearance to emotions, such as patience, attentive, kind, loving, etc.

Devotion

After viewing The Banjo Lesson talk about your family with your children. You might begin with a story about a grandparent or your childhood and then ask some of the following questions:

  • What makes your family special?
  • What are some things they know about family history, such as where the family came from or stories from tough times.
  • Have any objects or traditions been handed down from older generations?
  • What are some interests and hobbies of family members?
  • Have any of these been handed down from grandparents or other family members?

Ask children whether when they looked at The Banjo Lesson, they felt like the man, probably the boy’s grandfather, loved his grandson and was patiently teaching him how to play the banjo?

The Banjo Lesson by Henry O. Tanner, public domain

  • Talk with your children about how families were created by God to be places where children would be loved and accepted and could be encouraged and instructed as they grow and learn skills.
  • Ask them what skills they have learned from family members.

Loving and accepting families also help children learn about God’s love and acceptance (read Deuteronomy 5:4-7).

  • Jesus was born into a family. He had a mother and earthly father like other children. God knew Jesus needed a family who loved Him and helped Him grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and men (read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:39-52).
  • Ask children what they have learned about God and Jesus from parents and grandparents.
  • Ask if they’ve learned more from words and conversations or from actions?

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us and send Your Son to grow up in a family. We are so thankful for our family where we can be loved and accepted and learn about Jesus. Help us be attentive and want to learn to love and please our parents and You. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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Molly and I hope you enjoyed learning about Henry Ossawa Tanner and his paintings. We also hope you’ll join us again for an art project all about family!