Rob Dunlavey
Children's Books
A miscellany: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
break time
The day after the election
Oh little town… (Aleppo)
Owl Sees Owl (published Oct. 2016, Schwartz & Wade)
Every day, a peaceful ending (because we need it like that).
Owl Sees Owl endpapers
owl book progress
Quick snaps from a work in progress for Schwartz & Wade. The text is by Laura Godwin. The project is caoably and lovingly designed & art directed by Rachael Cole and Lee Wade. Support by Elena & Holly at Pippin Properties. Go Rob!
Progress Report
In 2010, I steered my little art boat in the direction of children's book illustration. Enough personal work had accrued that appeared to be a children's book illustration portfolio. I showed it to a number of publishers in Paris and New York and some commissions came in. It looked mostly like this:
"Owl and Tern" personal work 2010
Thanks to Barry Blitt and to the interest of Lee Wade and Rachel Cole at Random House, my first picture book was published by Schwartz and Wade in 2014. "The Dandelion's Tale", written by Kevin Sheehan,  describes the ill-fated relationship of an old dandelion flower and a friendly sparrow. Reviewers appreciated a picture book about loss and liked my slightly "retro" style and the warm colors. Words like "style and "retro" seem very strange to me.
sample spreads and the cover of "The Dandelion's Tale:" we have birds and the intimate relationship of two very different characters like the Owl and Tern in my portfolio. So far so good.
Around the time "Dandelion's Tale" was wrapping up, I was fortunate to be asked to join Pippin Properties in beautiful New York City founded and led by the inspiring Holly McGhee. My rep there is the creative and hard-working Elena Giovinazzo who had a tailor-made manuscipt waiting for me from Simon & Schuster written by Kathi Appelt: "Counting Crows." It was published last March.
My preliminary sketches for this book were pretty detailed scenes. After several drafts, Debra Sfetsios-Conover, my art director at Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, wisely envisioned a bold typographic design solution. Then things fell into place. The drawings are done with various pencils. The color was added digitally. The final printed cover is embossed and has red flocking for the red shirts and scarf.
Last year, Schwartz & Wade asked me to illustrate another book which will be published in July. Like "The Dandelion's Tale" there's a climactic scene of a dark and violent storm ( a hurricane nonetheless!).  "Over In the Wetlands" is written by Caroline Starr Rose and it tells how Louisiana bayou animals experience a life-changing yet natural event. Caroline's poetry is measured and varied as it builds with the storm's arrival. The cimactic spreads are nearly completely black. As the hurricane retreats and the animals emerge from their refuges, they see a new "jumbled" world ready to be explored. The accompanying rhymes breathe once again and we are brought fulll circle and safe, steady and ready for a peaceful starry night. Perfect for 4-8 year olds.
Final cover design and examples of spreads. All art directed by the always-marvelous-to-work-with Rachel Cole. Mixed media: mostly watercolor and collage.
A third Schwartz and Wade book is in the works. it will be published in 2016. Here are a few sneak peeks at the early sketches:
character sketch
baby owl can't sleep (pencil, digital color)
Strangely, and this is difficult for me to sort out (because creating Art is so fulfilling and fun, I feel there is more road ahead of me. The proof is that I continue to make lots of Art (like in 2009 and 2010, etc.) that looks a whole like children's book illustration. Hidden somewhere in the tangles and jungles of my searching there is some sort of picture book… I do not know what form it will take. I wish I did. Push push push!
Thank you for reading and looking.
There's a lot of "process" involved here and art-making is a form of therapy or relaxation. It's my life-line and lifestyle. It's a shame not to monetize it a wee bit more in a way that keeps the capricious spirits satisfied.
Baby Owl
I'm working a new book for Schwartz & Wade. Here are some sketch details. Lot of work to do yet so I'll save details for later on. I do have two completed picture books in the pipeline (scroll down if you're interested).
"Counting Crows" written by Kathi Appelt is being published by Simon & Schuster in a few weeks. Below: "Over In The Wetlands" by Caroline Starr Rose and also published by Schwartz & Wade hits bookshelves in July.
Before I go to work
Nifty brush and ink drawings of Canada Geese. Now that Summer is really here, the word has gone out to waterfowl far and near that South Natick is a destination!
There were lots of animals hanging around the South Natick Dam in the last week or two. As the water level goes down (unless we get more early season man-size hurricanes --unlike wimpy Arthur). Families of mallards will start holding swimming lessons, herons will be bumping into each other and children wil splash across the shallows over to the island to look for buried treasure and return home with poison ivy.
You can find me over there most mornings between 7:00 - 8:00 am before I go to work. 
He reminds me of the Marlboro Man: aloof, tall, strong and handsome.
Like just about every day I check these guys out. It's cheap therapy
Take a number! Geese line up on the tip top of the dam across the Charles Rover. Love that dirty water.
Drew this technicolor goose off site. I think it was in church…
The South Natick dam has a fish ladder on one end. I've seen fish trying leap up over the dam. There's no way they can make it over. They really ought to use the fish ladder. What were they thinking?
An Eastern Painted Turtle. His appearance was auspicious: I'm working right now on a painting of a similar type of turtles for a new picture book. More action shots in a facebook album:
These fish are too heavy and they do not spawn upriver as far as I know. They must weigh 10-15 lbs AT LEAST. There were about 15 big carp cruising back and forth along the face of the dam the other day. I blogged about them here
detail of three fish. (charcoal, watercolor)
Another Orphan
"The Lookout" …or it could have many other different titles: The Astronomer, the Lighthouse Keeper, Where do the stars go in the daytime?, etc. (mixed media, June 2, 2014)
Orphans! My sketchbooks are full of orphans: pictures in search of stories and stories searching for endings. But that's Life: endings, beginnings and endless questions in-between. Perhaps that's why this gentleman is snoozing at his telescope in his perch atop his cluttered beach shack/outpost.  A striped ginger cat keeps him anchored —otherwise, he might just dematerialize in the interminable and hallucinatory waiting.
I'm sorry for this unhelpful but colorful prose: the upshot is that I draw these single images for myself all the time and I successfully resist corralling the ideas into real stories with multiple images that might be enjoyed as a satisfying page-turning experience. Maybe it's time for a workshop or something. 
colophon: This was made with oil pastel, ink, watercolor, colored pencil, graphite and a little latex paint over several days of undisciplined fussing. Size: 11 x 8.5 inches.
Bird Brain
I draw birds a lot. Most of them are of the imaginary variety. Some of these doodles and personal works have inspired the few children's books I've completed in the last year or are currently working on.
back in 2012 I was sitting in the bar at the Hard Rock near Fenway Park one afternoon doodling in my sketchbook and enjoying a bowl of chili and a frosty beer.
I came up with a few pages of these silly crows. I guess it was my Coco Chanel phase. My lovely agent (Elena at Pippin Properties) loved the image and found the perfect manuscript by Kathi Appelt to go with it. Simon & Schuster is publishing it next Fall. The art is all clean graphite drawings with digital color added. Below we see the dirty dozen (minus two!) palavering about their next meal.
"Counting Crows" is made up of rhyming text about a dozen very hungry crows. Here they are eating stale potato chips and slimy snails.
A few other animals in my portfolio captured the interest of Anne Schwartz, Lee Wade, and Rachael Cole at Schwartz & Wade. "The Dandelion's Tale" written by Kevin Sheehan, was published in March. The reviews have been gratifying to read. People get so much more out of the book than I ever imagined. It's about friendship, loss and grief.
The dandelion complains that she is old and no one will remember her when she is gone. The sparrow takes pity on her and in the process of listening to her recount her favorite memories, they become friends.
This is typical of the images that were in my portfolio in 2010 when I visited Schwartz & Wade. Rachael was drawn to the relationships between the characters. This is from an as-yet unpublished story about a small tern and an owl and their friend, a big red bear. It's all very symbolic.
In "The Dandelion's Tale" there's a big storm one night. Things don't end well but I had fun painting this spread. It's ink, watercolor, charcoal, colored pencil and some digital rain
In the book I'm currently working on for Schwartz & Wade: "Over In The Wetlands" by Caroline Starr Rose there's another big storm (actually a hurricane). Here's a digitally colored pencil sketch of egrets cowering in the face of the intense wind and pelting rain. I'm embarking on the final art this weekend and it will be completed sometime in June.
I'm not crazy about this drawing of owl and tern enjoying a piece of cake around a campfire perhaps but I can call it process work. I post most of my sketchbook pages and doodles online in different places and it piles up like an archive. This is another image from my owl and tern saga that Schwartz & Wade dug up and found compelling. We'll see what happens. The book comes out in 2016 sometime. This new book for very young readers is about an owlet who takes a flight one Autumn night.
Character Study
They asked "How wide is the ocean?" He wondered: how deep is the ocean?
The little dragon wandered without much purpose. His pleasures were small in stature too: slugs, seeds, shadowy things and places.
As luck would have it, his mood improved and he tried out his wings.
He wondered how something so beautiful could not also bring happiness to others.
They appreciated the gesture at least.
Life made no sense… and the beautiful stars just said "Uh-huh."
Draw first, ask questions later. That's my operative principle these days. Or one of the major ones. I'm trying to use what I do best (in my opinion): sketching and painting personal work in sketchbooks as a pathway into writing children's stories.
This dragon character keeps popping up. When I paint, I do pretty abstract stuff first (scratches, rubbed textures, wax resist, different types of paint, collage, etc.). These usually (lamentably?) resolve into landscapes of some sort. The empty landscapes invite and goad me into adding some narrative element or figure. Composition happens and the picture is completed. The trick is sustaining enthusiasm and listening to the character and believing in the character as they tell me about their lives.
Along these lines, I just read Milton Glaser's "Drawing is Thinking" (2008, Overlook). The essay and interview printed in the book attempt to describe the selection and sequencing of images in the book but if you just look through it, the organization is pretty obvious. I love Glaser's work and continue to be inspired since the when his first book came out in the early 1980's. —But somehow, as an aside I just wonder… is he altogether a minor artist? It feels like heresy to say this. Maybe it's just his prodigiously vital intellect and eloquence and his omnivorous and loving and consistent quoting of classical Art. Maybe it's just because it's so darn beautiful! I struggle with it.
Another book I am so happy to own is the endlessly inspiring reproductions of Domenico Tiepolo's "Punchinello Drawings" (used & rare at Amazon). Since the drawings were made in the late 1700's, scholars have tried to assemble them into a narrative of the infamous Commedia dell'arte character. Tiepolo seemed happy enough presenting the work (executed late in his life) as a somewhat jumbled family album rather than a strict narrative.
This is definitely food for thought as I juggle just making pictures and story writing. Here are a few grabs off the web from Punchinello:
"The Burial of Punchinello", ca. 1800 Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, Venetian, 1727–1804) Pen and brown ink, brown and yellow wash, over black chalk
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, c. 1797 "Punchinello Carried off by a Centaur"
Isol, winner of this year's Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children's books for 2013.
In March 2013, the Swedish government sponsored award committee announced its decision to give this year's Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award to Isol, a children's book illustrator and author from Argentina. The other night, she accepted the award (sometimes referred to as "Europe's Caldecott").
Her acceptance speech is charming and inspiring like her books; she even sang a portion of it. She's got a fabulous voice! Congratulations to Isol!

An introduction to Isol's work:

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award
The Guardian
Isol website
Isol blog (includes text of her speech)
The Merry Muddle
I read an interview with Ryan O'Rourke yesterday. He's a children's book illustrator — among other things. He mentioned that working on children's books is akin to running a marathon and that doing editorial illustration is more like a sprint. I would agree. I'm currently working on two picture books and I only have a lot of sketches, tests, and jabs 'n stabs on the cutting room floor. Some days it's like having a sword fight or a game of tag with an invisible friend at the bottom of a swimming pool of molasses. I head over to a coffee shop to sneak up on myself and hammer out a new outline and thumbnails but soon enough, I have to confront the molasses of doubt again as I hopefully catch a glimpses of the faraway finish line. This is my life right now.
Regardless, my inclination and extensive training in fine arts (BA painting & printmaking, MFA sculpture) compel me to make Art as constantly as I can (currently in a series of sketchbooks). I really believe that the resulting accretion of images will someday amount to an artistic life lived without too many apologies. So, while Illustration right now seems to require wandering into the lairs of personal demons and even procrastinating with well-intentioned diversions, the payoff (of sorts) is that my anxiety and doubt breed the egotistic introspection to make Art that I can live with (and others may find interesting or inspiring some day). And it occurs to me, in looking at a few items from the past month, that this personal work (examples below) looks like children's book Illustration – with a dash of editorial illustration thrown on top. I guess it stands to reason. Onward then!
PS: in this time of year with so many transitions for those dear to us, consider for whom the bell tolls and be grateful for the freedom you have to make Art (and even blog about it) --I think this is just about the ultimate form of liberty one can manage in the fog of our relative comfort.
April 4, 2013 (blogged here) pencil, colored pencil, ink
March 31, 2013 Easter Sunday "Wolf Harried by Birds", watercolor, colored pencil
April 1, 2013 "Mad Bird, Sad Bird", mixed media
February 27, 2013 "Introspection", collage, watercolor
March 28, 2013 "Empty Planet", mixed media
April 1, 2013 "Nothing Biting", watercolor, charcoal, crayon, acrylic, ink
Red & Black
Here are a couple of birds hanging out shooting the breeze: I made this doodle early last year. It was part of a couple of pages of two-color sketches of birds misbehaving. I was just keeping myself occupied while waiting in a bar for someone to arrive. I made more doodles and added the striped jerseys in blue and red.
In the weeks that followed, I became involved in a book proposal for a small French publisher and continued the two-color strategy in my sketches. The story I came up with was about a dog who wants to sing in the Paris Opera.
It's your basic "lost dog" picture book with split second timing and missed encounters.
The owner gets on the bus while the dog enjoys a peppy red taxi ride.
Eventually, the pooch makes it to the opera for his audition.
In this detail, the owner finally recognizes his dear pet as it sings an aria.
"Le Chien Perdu" was submitted and unfortunately languished (maybe a good thing?) but the bird doodles have found an enthusiastic response on this side of the pond. My agent, Elena Mechlin at Pippin Properties saw them and showed them to a publisher who had a picture book text about some birds and no illustrator yet. Pippin's a great matchmaker! So I'm currently working on research for this book (details below). I'm not sure when this book will be in the stores. The finals are due in April 2013!
Bonne journée! 
Bird Brain
detail: flying mallard (pen & ink)
I'm drawing birds a lot this summer (no real surprise there). Most of it is for my own enjoyment but it goes hand in glove with a few picture book commissions I'm in the midst of or just beginning. The books both involve birds. Once I'm further along with these projects, I'll see if it's okay to blog about the process. So in the meantime, some birds for you…
Near my house in South Natick, mallards at the dam on the Charles River. (ballpoint pen and drybrush ink)
a doodle
"The Telescope" –another doodle (mixed media: collage, ink, watercolor, acrylic)
sketch (pencil. digital color) for a children's book I'm painting for Schwartz & Wade/Random House. Due out next year.
odds and ends while watching the Olympics.
Frog Wrangling
A while back, I too had some business to conduct with Jim Burke who is the creative director behind Dellas Graphics Frogfolio calendar for 2013. He is also the chair behind the new lively illustration program at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Thank you very much Jim!
It was daunting to be included with many famous and noteworthy frog wranglers such as Bill Mayer, Tim O'Brien and Marcos Chin. I suspect it was my frog-wrangling skills rather than my illustration abilities that appealed to Jim. Nevertheless, I created this painting/collage what-have-you. Since this diversion was all just for fun and no money changed hands, I worried and perseverated and overworked it as much as possible.
You can see one of my sketches to the left here. I think it all worked out for the best. Inter-species love affairs have their logistical problems (at the very least).
Muddled media: collage, ink, crayon, charcoal, colored pencil, acrylic, watercolor on some indifferent heavy laid paper.
the edge of some spiral bound paper gets used as balusters in the architectural detailing.
I'm still learning to keep commissioned work as fresh as my personal work. I'm getting there slowly as work in this style and market (children's books) gets traction.
This garden is near my house. It's the Hunnewell Pinetum on Lake Waban at Wellesley College. I did this drawings last summer.
a conté drawing of a real bullfrog. Pucker up ladies!
Leo Dillon 1933 - 2012
Children's book illustrator Leo Dillon has died. He was 79 years old. He is survived by his wife and illustration partner, Diane Dillon and their son Lee. The Dillons were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society of Illustrators in 2008.
A wonderful tribute from Irene Gallo of Tor Press.
A blog collection of their work here.
More info here at Publisher's Weekly.
I've been thinking about weeds a lot this Spring. All winter as a matter of fact. Back in September, I dug up clods of dandelions, grass and plantain and kept them in my studio. One sunny autumn day, the dandelions blossomed and went to seed. And now with Spring all around us, I'm intoxicated by the greenness of it all. I love weeds. All this weed-love is part and parcel of the picture book I'm working on now for Schwartz & Wade*.
*a small aside: many thanks to Barry Blitt for playing matchmaker way back when!
draft 2 sketch. The art director is Rachael Cole.
sketchbook page (charcoal pencil, wash)
sketch study (conté pencil, watercolor)
graphite pencil study (Ticonderoga #2 people!)
Of course, it's IMPOSSIBLE to behold (and attempt to draw no less) this beautiful stuff without constantly having one shining example front and center:
This of course is "The Great Piece of Turf" an amazing watercolor study painted by Albrecht Dürer in 1503 in his Nuremberg atelier several years after his return from that little trip to Italy. The original painting is in the Albertina Museum in Vienna.
Have any of you been to the Albertina? Is it amazing? I'd love to go. And wander. And draw… like Dürer… for pleasure and for work. Same thing!
Getting back to the book project, I'm working on sample finishes this week. So far, the look is more like William Steig than Albrecht Dürer. I don't think Dürer needs to worry at all! But I love William Steig!
a quick little snapshot (media: watercolor, crayon, colored pencil, ink… a few other substances)
Donatien Mary
Donatien Mary is an illustrator and printmaker from France. He graduated from Les Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg in 2007 and currently lives in Paris. He's involved in many personal projects, bande dessinée and books for Actes Sud, Les petits Platons and Éditions 2024.
I like his aquatints and his linear drawing style. It reminds me of Otto Dix and Georg Grosz. I like how he uses limited color and can work the whole page or spread. It's just caustic, vibrant and immediate work that incorporates the best drawing of European graphic and comic history… and beyond. Hope you enjoy these samples:
Here & There
"Day for Night" -just a doodle. I liked the idea that the headlights could be movie projectors but it's light outside and that made me think of the Truffaut film. (ink, pencil, charcoal, crayon, fabric paint)
Good stuff, items here from my sketchbooks from January. All somewhere between "here" and "there" --in the process of feeding the beast.
"Ménage a trois" (collage, colored pencil, ink)
This was meant to be autobiographical but clearly, it's not. (pencil, crayon, watercolor)
This reminds me of those winter days where the snow reflects so much warmth from the brilliant sun. This elf a migrant laborer, is on his way home from that sweatshop at the North Pole. (gouache, collage, colored pencil)
This collaged stone wall languished for months in my sketchbook. I started adding the vines and it created a more intimate space for something nice to be discovered –a special singing bird! (collage, watercolor, pencil, acrylic)
This began as a word-picture. Bernadette Gervais, a French illustrator, asked me to make a painting of it. So I did. I'm currently working on a few picture book proposals for Editions du Seuil Jeunesse. (collage, ink, colored pencil, watercolor, gouache)
Happy Holidays
Best wishes to you. I hope you find a little magic in these days. Art helps that happen frequently.
Bird Brain
I love looking at all kinds of art. And when I look at Art, I often draw it too. I'm like a vampire wanting some of the life of it coursing through me as I move and grow through my own modes of expression. And simply to SEE and possibly pay my respects.
Last Sunday, I was at the MFA in Boston where there is a nice exhibit of Colonial embroideries. These critters are from those 200-300 year old items. The designs are so charming and the animals have quite a pedigree: they originated in India and got recycled through the British trade in Indian fabrics. The designs were then were copied by the British fabric mills and sent abroad. The birds (and flowers and beasts) migrated over to the American Colonies where they became projects to keep the young'uns out of trouble and down on the farm.
And I borrowed a few to put on this pretty lame bird house. I wonder where else they will turn up?
Don't you like his purple toenail polish?
A handsome fellow…
Poor bird! This study is of a White-Throated Sparrow that was hit by a car. I have birds on my brain as I am currently working on a children's book about a sparrow and a flower.
Maurice Sendak interview
NPR's Terry Gross interview with Maurice Sendak yesterday.
photo © John Dugdale/HarperCollins Children's Book
just checking…
uh huh…

just as I thought!

Now what?

Tell the Missus? …or not?

Shhhh, bonne nuit!

The Waiting Room
"Nothing to do but wait…" (Today 5:30 am in the studio)
Waiting for the phone to ring? Don't be sad, there's always:
  1. Studio work: check
  2. Doodle work: check
  3. Off-site work: check
Work is never finished is it?
Just having your eyes (and imagination) open is work !
(the best kind!)

Life's too beautiful.
The world's too beautiful
Too beautiful NOT to work.

Today, 8:00 am. down by the river for a quick drawing of the morning light.

This morning @ 10:30 as I sat in church.

Time to get back to work!

Playing with Bears
Winter's over; time to wake up!

Just going for a little walk

The stars are brilliant

The amazing Aurora Borealis.

Hmmm… a city!

The welcoming committee!

Playing in a fountain!

What the…?

Inscrutable. He didn't respond. He just kept staring at that rock.

Some people are strange. It's still winter. Maybe when Spring rolls around, I'll come back and figure out why he just stared at that rock. That's it. You want more? These things take time!

Early one morning last weekend, the cat sleeps in my usual chair so I sit on the floor with my coffee and start cutting up old envelopes. I've been working with this bear lately. He's pretty reticent and it's difficult to get him to tell me what's going on and what's important --from a bear's point of view. I was able to take some pictures while he wandered around.
I'll keep working at it.
He wanders rather aimlessly; just following his nose. I bet once he figures out that Spring is here for good, he will jump for joy and life will assume its usual meaningful direction.

Playing with Bears
Winter's over; time to wake up!

Just going for a little walk

The stars are brilliant

The amazing Aurora Borealis.

Hmmm… a city!

The welcoming committee!

Playing in a fountain!

What the…?

Inscrutable. He didn't respond. He just kept staring at that rock.

Some people are strange. It's still winter. Maybe when Spring rolls around, I'll come back and figure out why he just stared at that rock. That's it. You want more? These things take time!

Early one morning last weekend, the cat sleeps in my usual chair so I sit on the floor with my coffee and start cutting up old envelopes. I've been working with this bear lately. He's pretty reticent and it's difficult to get him to tell me what's going on and what's important --from a bear's point of view. I was able to take some pictures while he wandered around.
I'll keep working at it.
He wanders rather aimlessly; just following his nose. I bet once he figures out that Spring is here for good, he will jump for joy and life will assume its usual meaningful direction.

Javier Zabala
Javier Zabala sketchbook exhibit

Cristiana Clerici has conducted and absolutely WONDERFUL interview with the fabulous Spanish illustrator JAVIER ZABALA. Read it here.
reblogged from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
sketches for "Hamlet"

Javier Zabala was born in León, Spain in 1962. He has illustrated over 70 books of poetry and fiction for children.

"During his brilliant career as an illustrator, Javier has undertaken undoubtedly complex works: from the illustrations of Don Quixote, to those for Santiago by García Lorca (for whom he obtained the Mention of Honour at the Bologna Book Fair), to the illustration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for adults. Amongst others, he has illustrated stories by Melville and Rodari. Let’s say he’s made sure to cover almost all possible experiences! He probably doesn’t have much hesitation when it’s time to take up new challenges; this is an attitude I personally appreciate very much, because it’s symptomatic of a strong will to keep evolving, researching, and studying, something a professional, in my humble opinion, should never abandon. Though united by a thread that resides in his sensitivity, his vision of the world, and in the ability with which he gets to transfer those into images, adapting the language according to the audience he’s addressing, all his books are different."
— from the interview, text © 2011 Cristiana Clerici

December Errata
First: A recent passle of illustrations done for The Christian Science Monitor for their 2010 end of the year Gift Guide. It was a treat and a challenge to parlay my Pointy People into a commissioned job. The Christian Science Monitor gave me my first editorial assignments when I first moved to Boston in 1986. The art director now is veteran John Kehe and he has a loyal following among many illustrators.

a detail (colored pencil, water color, digital)

This illustration ran across the spread and bled off the top of the page

An illustration that led the Gift Guide section.

Second: I was invited by Alain Lachartre of the French design agency Vue sur la ville & Mister Brown to contribute a drawing to their 2011 calendar. A great honor to say the least. Naturally, I choked on the pressure to produce something that would span the briny and inhospitable Atlantic in its "savoir faire" and "je ne sais quoi". Other contributers include: Aline Zalko, Jamie Cullen, Laurent Courvaiser, Bruno Salamone, Yan Nascimbene, Laurent Auduoin, Laurent Lolmède, Fernando Togni, Frédéric Rébéna, Serge Bloch, and Steven Guarnaccia.
It's just a bit of nonsense. Alain only asked that, if possible, the art include the name of the month, the numbers of the days and some reference to "Mister Brown". Of course, it never hurts to add a few alligators or foxes.

Finally (I hope you've gotten this far) I've just gotten my 2011 calendar back from the printer and am sending them out. Please let me know if you want one and send me instructions as to how to mail one to you. Bonne Année et bonne santé!
The poster is 18 x 24" offset printed on a semi-gloss text weight paper. It is shipped folded.

destination: UNKNOWN

If you really like this sort of thing a printed version is available here.
Sleeping Beauty

The End

(or not)

Red Sox 3 - Tampa Bay 1
Tired of bad analog television service in the new Digital Wonderland™ (we were warned by Harry Shearer), we finally ordered cable TV this summer. All this means, besides the fact that I have no excuse (except lack of time and interest) to be more up to date on the value of the Shopping Channels or even Mad Men, I can now coccoon and watch my home team on TV. And that means art playtime because, face it, baseball represents a serious time committment with many commercial breaks. And these moments are perfect interludes to doodle nonsense.
Without further ado…

If you're disappointed by the lack of baseball content, I apologize.
However, do not despair! Several years ago, I put my baseball watching moments to good use with a different series of 100 drawings called "Homerun Heroes". They're in a different style but I still like them a lot and I hope you do too :-)
If you're very interested, I can send you a beautiful two-color catalog of these pictures.
Cabinet of Curiosities
Tucked into a corner of a European Decorative Arts gallery at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a curious object that has fascinated me over the years. I think it's a fairly recent piece in the collection; it may actually be on loan to the MFA. Anyway, there it is, this hulking monstrosity in a room judiciously populated with naturalistic Meissen porcelain peacocks, views of Venice by Guardi and Caneletto, a large allegorical painting by Tiepolo and a rustic romance by Gainsborough.
It is an almost six foot tall cabinet made in Germany in the mid 1700's.The decorative style mimics Asian lacquerware with rich reds and golds used on a black ground. This piece of furniture however was created entirely by craftsmen who had never travelled far from their German homes. Every surface is decorated with exotic scenes of people and potentates traveling and hunting. According to the caption that accompanies the exhibit, the illustrations were derived from a popular 1699 German translation (presumably) of Johannes Nieuhof's " An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China." Nieuhof and a his delegation of Dutch businessmen visited Peking in 1655 to negotiate trade agreements with the Chinese. What they found was a country in the middle of a war. As a result, the embassy took longer to achieve its mission and this gave Nieuhof time to amass his observations. The resulting book was popular and it is an indication of how the European world was shrinking as trade and empires expanded. In a short time, popular tastes began to include the results of the new realities of global business.
A marble bust of Jaques-Rolland Moreau (by LeMoyne) and the Miessen peacock assess the cabinet. Is it worthy or a crass party crasher? We are voyeurs to Crespi's voluptuous "Woman Playing a Lute" lost in her own world of music.
I like that the cabinet is illustrated. Every surface has a picture of some little adventure: a group of men pilot a ship that is half Dutch galleon and half Chinese junk. A fashionable woman rides in an ornate litter carried by two hefty Chinese lads, a peasant man in exotic pajamas confronts a lion with spear and shield and two gentlemen enjoy tea under a leafy Oriental bower. There's this charming and awkward clash of cultures: Chinese to Dutch to German… to me!
I like that in this gallery filled with Art, there is a clunky decorated thing. Artists were commissioned to make images that reflected and informed the worldview of the owners. Despite my training as a fine artist, I like illustration and Decorative Art better. The messages seem clearer than Art. The images seem unafraid to be just what they are. And in this case, clumsiness of execution reveals the humanity (good & bad) behind the enterprise. The reasons for its existence are down to earth and in accord with the scale of my interests.
cheap camera no flash = fuzzy images. I try not be too precious in my photo documentation of things I'd rather internalize and make my own.
In 2009 I heard about Kerala, India and I started drawing these whimsical boats. They were doodled offshoots from the German cabinet boats. I hadn't seen any photos of Kerala at the time but my boats bear a slight resemblance to boats from this intriguing coastal area of southern India. More importantly, they were an adaptation of my research concerning the German cabinet. I started seeing these boats all over.
So, 350 years ago, the Dutch went on a fishing expedition seeking trade and returned with a catalogue an an exotic culture. The Germans, enmeshed in a market for luxury goods catered to popular taste and adapted their traditional working methods. Later, A collector appreciated the craftsmanship of the cabinet and eventually wanted to share it with the world by loaning it to the museum. I then bring along all my personal and cultural baggage and aspirations and cherry-pick what I love and apply it to my own artistic projects. At some point it's all bound to come full circle. I wonder what that would look like?
A day in the life...
In Pointyville, rich and poor alike have wheels.
even the commute is interesting.
Ha Ha! Bonne journée!
The roads are really full in Pointyville. Most everyone drives  a souped-up something or other. Even the bicycles have something elastic and crazy about them. Even if they are clunkers like that lucky fellow above has. Those thugs don't have a chance!
Seems the only thing to fear are the Moms. They come down pretty hard when they find their kids have been goofing off and not doing their homework. This chap was caught stealing cigarettes and tagging the Circle K. C'mon dude! You can do better than that!
What did I do?!
Pointy People: cars
Things with wheels: better than the domestication of fire, wheat and beer!  What better way to get around in the Crystal,Cities and environs than in a jalopy, jitney or elaborate velocipede?

Finally! I've found a use for an artifact that has enchanted me for years. It's at the MFA in Boston. Among other things, the lid of the bowl shows a man smoking a pipe riding a bicycle with a few passengers aboard. He's no ordinary mortal though. And I do love that bike and that he's smoking. A good balance wouldn't you say?
Here's the id card text:

"On the lid, Esu-his book and pipe nearby-is depicted as a bicycle rider, a signature of Arowogun's work and a reference to the role divination continues to play in modern life." source

Diviner's Bowl (opon igedeu) African, Nigeria (Yoruba peoples)
Artist: Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin, Nigerian (Yoruba peoples), about 1880–1956 Height: 31.11 cm (12 1/4 in.) Diameter: 29.21 cm (11 1/2 in.) Wood, pigment traces

More related drawings here:
Just playing with the basic elements of a conveyance.
in my early teens, I drew many dragsters, hot rods and souped up cars. It's fun to revisit them.
In a rust-best city
Putt-putt car
On the way to market
Pointy People
screen shot of a small portfolio of recent children's book illustrations. Below is an interactive issuu pdf.

Pointy People Portfolio by Rob Dunlavey


Good Day!

Here's hoping you have a busy, productive and happy day (and night!).

Urban Sprawl
Last week (or was it the week before?) I received a package from France. The contents, when fussed over, checked-in and curated lay scattered all over the studio floor like so many Christmas mornings led by children hopped up on too many sugar plums. Like all binges though this one had its attendant hangover. So this weekend when the sun came out I finally tidied up a bit and my mood (...le vin, la cuisine, l'art, mes nouveaux amis, mon cœur ... quoi d'autre ai-je laisser à Paris?) started to lift too. And lo! A city had sprung up!

I showed these sculptures in Paris in December (some photos here). The presentation was a little less jumbled! To keep transportation costs low, I designed everything so it could fit in a box or two. It was NICE to be reunited with my little creations.
Many thanks to the staff of the American Library in Paris and other friends for many thoughtful favors.

More of this sort of thing is posted on my flickr site.
Random lyric

The Tale of My Keeper Of Cats
(a randomly generated and edited ballad. Get your own here.)
It began on a salty Friday midnight:
I was the most winsome tern around,
She was the most inscrutable keeper of cats.

She was my pilot,
My inscrutable pilot,
My keeper of cats.

We used to run so well together, back then.
We wanted to walk together, around the world,
We wanted it all.

But one midnight, one salty midnight,
We walked too much.
Together we swindled the locksmith.
It was swift, so swift.

She grew so wonderful.
That salty Friday midnight.
City in the snow
Meet Smokey. He's a big bruiser who's come to live with us.
When I feel the need to procrastinate or just have fun, I draw these buildings. Some, like this one, are cut, scored and folded. "Toys for grown-up children!" as one of my Parisian contacts enthusiastically described them. The possibilities are endless: just add trees, streets, monuments, towers, rushing people, hungry wolves, a Little Match Girl perhaps…

Or a large gray cat (for scale)!

More images of this sort of thing here

Petites Fêtes
ornaments not necessarily needed…
something worth crowing about!
designated drinker
Studio Peek
The beginnings of a picture book dummy: Meet Phineas Foghorn, an impulsive cat.
clutter central
No ping pong table. No large collectors edition posters. No extensive library full of awards and expensive design compendiums. No first editions. No fancy guitars or expensive workstations. No swimming pool. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Things are jerry-rigged. I'd love to move out and move back in and fill up a dumpster but that would take a very long time. Kind of a swamp really. But it's home. And despite everything sour going on in the world and in the economy, this studio been good to me this past year. So here's to 2010 and to creative workspaces everywhere and their denizens. You know who you are. Be it a palace or a suitcase, a magic silicon wand or a can of spray paint, studios start in the mind and only then move out into the real world. But they start in your noggin --so now I'd better get back to work!

it works for me…
vertical and horizontal stackage. Everything in its place and a place for everything.
Annuals make good paperweights. This recent model on top of a late model Epson scanner.
inspiration: "The Poet" by Leo Espinosa & "The Seven Deadly Sins" by Posada
For all you night owls: above my cantankerous monitor, the equally cantankerous Sonnet 27 by Shakespeare.
Note the carefully cultivated fine coating of dust.
the amoeba says "Bonjour!"
Diderot et pigeon sur la tête!
I'm back and processing, processing, processing impressions and results of a long trip to Paris to attend the children's book fair, meet with publishers and show my work. And a hundred other things in-between. Besides many new contacts and just a taste of the city, I also have come home with two book projects for Bayard Jeunesse and Hélium éditions. The plane ride home was filled with thumbnails and to-do lists. More later.

Voyage à Paris
This map shows the arrondissements highlighted in various colors. Children's book publishers I hope to visit are shown as yellow markers.
I've wanted to see Paris for a very long time (ever since French lessons in 3rd grade!). Various factors have finally conspired to make this trip a reality. I fly to France a few days before Thanksgiving. But does one need excuses to visit Paris? (Non!) I did and here are two of them (there are more):
The Salon du livre de la presse jeunesse:
In it's 25th year, this is the largest of the French book fairs and it rivals Bolonge in the number of children's book publishers that take part and opportunities for teachers, parents, children, authors, illustrators to wallow in the world of children's literature. There will be truckloads of books to see, publishers and illustrators to meet. My appointment calendar is starting to fill up. The Salon is very organized and the various resources they offer has made it possible to research and contact French publishers and learn much about the state of French children's book illustration.
There are many trade fairs and conferences that illustrators can benefit from attending. But I needed something more to justify the time and expense of going to the book fair in Montreuil (Paris). So while I'm in Paris, I was able to arrange a small exhibit of my work at The American Library in Paris. This is a private library that was founded in the aftermath of WWI. It's a bit of a home to expatriate American writers when they are in Paris. The show runs from Dec.1 - Jan. 2 with a presentation and vernissage on Dec. 3rd at 7:30 pm.

This is the exhibit space: a series of glass cabinets near the main entrance to the library. Since everything is under glass, there's no need to frame the paintings which will enable me to take the entire exhibit as carry-on baggage. Sculptures included!
I created this poster as a gift to the library for it's donors. It doubles as a 2010 calendar; if you'd like one drop me a line.
Štěpán Zavřel
Lately, thanks to Puño, I've learned about Štěpán Zavřel. Here are some pics of his work.
There's a big children's book art festival in Sàrmede, Italy (about 60 km North of Venzia) that is kind of dedicated to Štěpán Zavřel. There are some galleries here.

Thanks Puño!

I had to search far and wide for these in the local library network.
spread from "The Bridge Across" about two warring families who become united because of and despite their discord.
from "The Bridge Across"
eventually, a wonderful bridge gets built.
I love the intricate and cozy watercolor technique. It's like stained glass.

This amazing spread is from "The Magic Fish". The story is about a fish that swims out of a painting, down the pipes to the ocean where he helps the little fish get away from the big scary fish.
exquisite spininess!
Evil foiled!
The fish goes back to the city and everyone is happy.
These city scenes are what prompted Puño to tell me about Zavrel. Here are a few more architctural scenes from "The Followed the Star" about the Christian Nativity.

Looks a bit like Paris…!
An angel visits the King while he sleeps.
Here come the Wise Men.
Sculptures de papier
It's a ragtag crowd for sure: saints, sinners, soldiers home from war.
My Crystal Cities have gone 3-d and now squatters have moved in. The guess the secret's getting out.

I'll be exhibiting three or four of these sculptures and paintings in Paris this December when I attend the Salon du Livre de la presse jeunesse in Montreuil. The children's book fair has high level representatives from all the French publishers of picture books, juvenile books and bandes dessinées. It's huge. Luckily, the "guest list" is online and I've been doing nose-to-the-grindstone research for the least few months and have begun contacting directeures artistiques. I can't wait to go!

2010 poster/calendar advertising the exhibit just came back from the printer and awaits shipment to France. The show will be at The American Library in Paris which is near the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondisement (Merci le fact-checking dept!). All the sculptures will fit inside this nifty carry-on size crate that I built. Not a centimeter to spare! Don't forget the Christmas lights!

Eccentrics are very much at home in this place!
A glittering metropolis awaits…
Need some cabbages? Oh my, it's gotten late!
Thief! Opportunist! An inch-high knave of hearts!
You try painting when a stag and his harem wander onto your palette!
A mild case of schizophrenia
This was done last week for Patrick Flynn. It's a cover illustration for Rethinking Schools.
This was done last week as well. One of my entries for the Galician winery Bodega Terras Gauda poster competition. A votre santè!
Another contest entry from last weekend: A book fair in Rouen, France
Throughout all these delectable gyrations, the merry flow of doodles continues unabated. It's my world, welcome to it.
Where I want to be!
Red Riding Hood exploring (with a purpose) in the big forest!
(ink, charcoal, colored pencil)
Is exploration over-rated? Our muses and mothers tell us to stop and smell the roses, doodle and dabble. Explore. Express yourself. Poke and root around and see what beautiful things emerge. But in illustration and other creative endeavors, there is this pressure… go ahead, dabble, but get it right, take it to market and ride that pony till it's frothing and dead on its feet.

It occurred to me this morning that in the illustration world there is a preponderance of monkeys styling about. Why is this? I'm sure it's not just that so many artists these days make their livelihood aping others' styles and old trends. Maybe it's because monkeys are human enough but not so human to cause the poorer draftsmen among us a little pang. Maybe it's the comic potential that simians offer. God knows we always need to poke fun at ourselves, now more than ever. But back to dabbling and delving… and maybe slipping on a banana peel too.

My dabbling has lead me in the direction from editorial to children's book illustration with some decorative noodling thrown into the bargain. I'm still adding ingredients to the bowl and I wonder…! I wonder what will I finally take to market this Fall when I launch my new chariot. The pressure! How to explore and leave doors open so that the work is fresh and original yet somehow pays respect to the giants before and beside me? How to do it all and distill a style out of all my playful ramblings?

These concerns weigh on me today as I attempt to explain my absence of late from these pages. Drawger is a place where we wave our little triumphs because, face it, this is a tough business and even the most successful illustrator is only as good as her last job. There's always the downward pressure of the swarms of new talent and low fees for most. And the alphas on our little version of Survivor climbing higher wondering how it got so lonely up there. Success and failure are equally paradoxical. So I ask you, new and old alike, rich and poor, serf and lord: How's things? Growing webs or wings? Sharpening your dagger or hoeing your beans?
recent sketchbook entries: Red riding Hood, a witch, Thumbelina in her cradle doodle, angry Queen Sun, angry Old Winter, odds & ends.
Messing with dragons
I needed a dragon for something I was working on.
I tried a few different ones.
I figure dragons are good to have in your portfolio if you want to illustrate children's books (no one else seems to have much of a need for them).
A dragon is born! (he's just a baby…)
Where is he supposed to fit?? On top? In the middle? Maybe those hills are really nasty fiery clouds?
Now, this is working for me: he's a snow dragon. Maybe he's afraid of fire…
And just maybe, a tomboy princess out flying on her magic carpet crashed on an anowy mountaintop, rolled down the hill and found an icicle-encrusted cave. And went inside and found… :-)

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