In 1967 I read a novel,Rascal, by Sterling North. I wrote my usual book report and I got a bright, although not new, idea. What if I drew a picture of the raccoon on the cover? It wasn’t long before I had my classmates asking me to draw images on their report covers. My fifth grade illustration business was born and I was paid in ice cream currency. I’ve rekindled my love of of the story and am taking on the images that come to me now.
If you have Multiple Muse Disorder, you know how easy it is to fall down a Rabbit Hole, or in this case a Mouse Hole. My work illustrating Rascal, by Sterling North, sends me on a lot of research journeys, which I love. When Sterling is mandated to get a collar and leash for his little pet, he goes to see Mr. Shadwick the harness maker. The narrative of the story tells of Mr. Shadwick engraving Rascal’s name in the finest Spencerian script.
Well, I know a little about these scripts, but not a lot. I have many wonderful calligraphy books and a really old book called Hill’s Manual of Business Forms and Guide to Correct Writing,1877. The fun of getting really old books are the treasures that former owner’s leave in the pages. Old stamps, news clippings, money (not yet, but someday) and in this case pressed flowers. The name Emily is written over the name Lester Sullivan, so I’m assuming Emily owned this book at one time. In the leaves of the book are a few clippings of poems, an ad for an Elmo treadle sewing machine from a Lyon Brothers formerly H. Wolf & Co. catalogue and pressed flowers. Given the age of the book, the age of the ad and the assumption Emily wanted this sewing machine and she pressed the flowers, I’m guessing the flowers are over 100 years old. So down the mouse-hole I go.
I figure I better brush up on Spencerian lettering to get my Rascal illustration authentic. So I get out a Hunt pointed pen, oblique pen holder, guide lines from IAMPETH, Noodlers Black Ink, Bond practice paper and away I go. But those flowers, what about those flowers? Emily pressed them for something she wanted to make. Cards, art, bookmarks are all possibilities. That’s it, bookmarks. And I’ll practice lettering on the back. But I started practicing Engrosser’s Script (Copperplate), which I love, and still need to look at Spencerian, which is where this short story made long started and where I tripped and fell.
What fun tumbling down the mouse-hole. Thank you to Emily, this week’s muse.
Why mice? I dreamed they used the flowers as parasols.
I recently applied for the SCBWI Mentor Program. Part of my application was to submit a one page Artist Statement. As I thought back to my first illustrations, I remembered that I illustrated my book report cover for “Rascal” by Sterling North. It was a pencil drawing on red construction paper of a raccoon in a tire swing. It wasn’t long before my classmates were hiring me to create their covers too. The price, one ice cream bar.
I decided to go back to that time and illustrate the cover again. My plan is to create the cover, three interior spot illustrations and chapter illuminated letters. I’ve listened to the audio book twice and will go borrow the book from the library to get the chapter breaks correct.
By the way, it is a charming story of 1918 America during WWI, the war to end all wars. Even during dark times, kids always seem to find a way to make their lives whole. Sometimes animals and their connections to us are just the thing that keeps us grounded on our planet.