children’s book

Letter to a Young Artist

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Dear little boy,

You may not have noticed, but I have been watching you grow.

I remember the first time you came into our art class. You were shy and quiet. You walked to the back of the room and sat at a table by yourself. When I gave you a pencil and a piece of paper, you told me you couldn’t draw.

When you came back the following week, I was happy to see you. Again, when I gave you paper and a pencil, you told me you couldn’t draw. I sat down and asked you to tell me about something you liked to do – something you were good at. You told me you liked to play soccer.

“Were you a terrific soccer player the first time you tried?

“No.” you said.

“How did you get better?” I asked.

“I practiced.”

“It’s the same thing with drawing, ” I explained, “the more you draw, the better you’ll get.”

The following week you were back again. This time, you sat at a table next to my husband, Richard. I saw how intently you were watching him draw. You asked him to draw a truck. I watched as you tried to draw one by yourself.

The next time I saw you at class, you were sitting with the group, drawing everything in sight. The stuffed animals on the table, flowers and butterflies – even copying images from the mural on the wall. I could tell you had been practicing – a lot. I sat down next to you and told you how amazing your drawings were – really beautiful.

“Hey, I thought you said you couldn’t draw!” I teased.

You looked at me and smiled.

The following week we sat at a table and drew pictures together. I complimented your work – “Wow, that’s a great hand. Hands are hard to do – I still have trouble with them, sometimes.” You looked at my drawing and asked how I got to be so good. “Practice,” I said, “Years and years of practice.”

When class ended, you hugged me.

Dear little boy, you are an artist.

Soon our class will be over and you may never see me again..

but the gift you found within yourself will be with you always.

Still Life with Scorpion Hat

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My husband Richard and I volunteer each week to teach art to a group of inner city kids in downtown Phoenix. Sitting at a table, listening to music, talking and drawing with these beautiful children is a wonderful experience. We have been honing our skills doing still-life drawings. Not your typical bowls of fruit – instead, I have been bringing in a pile of strange objects and weird stuffed animals to draw. I encourage these young artists to choose what animal they’d like to draw – and then to use their imagination to create their own landscape – adding other characters, people and things to complete their masterpiece. Last night we got a little goofy after we finished our drawings, and ended up wearing most of the animals as hats. When I see the expression on that young artist wearing a stuffed scorpion on her head, it fills me with joy.

Old Geezer Grandpa

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Once upon a time I lived in an apartment with my dog Gunther…

Mostly, I kept to myself – but I did manage to make one friend: An eleven-year-old boy named Tyler.

Tyler loved to watch me draw.

Often, we would sit together on the open patio outside my apartment (with Gunther at our feet) enjoying the afternoon.

Although I drew many things for Tyler – one day he made a special request.

“Can you draw an old geezer grandpa?” he asked.

“A what?” I replied. I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly.

“An old geezer grandpa!”

Not a dinosaur, or some exotic animal.. not a spaceship, or a super hero. Tyler was practically jumping up and down with excitement – he wanted an “old geezer grandpa”… so I drew him one.

Tyler hung over my shoulder – frantically giving directions.

“Give him a moustache! And glasses!” Tyler shouted.

We spent the afternoon that way.. laughing at the result you see above.

The Wolf in the Story

lupus in fabula 001

I call this painting “Lupus in Fabula”.

It is Latin for “The wolf in the story” – meaning “speak of the wolf, and he will come”.

One of my earliest memories was a dream I had as a child.

I was always drawing when I was little. More than anything, I loved to make pictures – all I wanted was to draw well. Even at that early age, I understood that the drawings I made did not look like the things I wanted to draw – the things I saw in my mind. There was some kind of disconnect between my hand and my imagination. How could I close the gap? I remember looking at a reindeer I made – lopsided circle for a body, sticks for legs and something that looked like TV antennas on top of its head. That didn’t look anything like the animal I saw in my imagination.

Then one night, I had a dream.

I was sitting at a table in front of a blank piece of paper. Someone behind me guided my hand as I drew the head of a wolf. They spoke to me in a calm, reassuring voice “It’s easy… you see?” And it was. The wolf looked like a wolf – not a lopsided circle with dark holes for eyes… it had a snout, fur and pointed ears. It was a wolf.

I woke up, grabbed a pencil and paper – and I drew a wolf.

Just like that.

In The Secret Kingdom, I think it’s fitting that the poem I wrote for “Lupus in Fabula” came to me while I was asleep.

I must have been dreaming of wolves again.

 

 

Mr. Crazy’s Lament

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My dog Gunther was my constant companion for 11 1/2 years. I first held him in my hands when he was a week old. Dalmatians do not have spots when they’re born – so he looked like a chubby white rat. Gunther was my beloved child.

Like most dogs, Gunther had many nicknames. Gumpy, Lumpy, Dog-head, Goonar, the seal-dog… and of course, Mr. Crazy. Mr. Crazy was what I called him when he was exceptionally happy – which was very often. He would burst into a room, flinging toys.. tongue flapping and wagging his tail like a propeller. Watching him prance and leap around the house filled me with joy.

I call this painting “Mr. Crazy’s Lament”

It was what I was working on while making the decision to put Gunther down.

It was the first time a blackberry appeared in my paintings… since then, there have been many others.

I remember sitting on a stool in the kitchen.. deep in thought. My sister came in – she had brought me blackberries. So I sat there at the table – eating blackberries and petting my beloved Gunther.

I held one of the berries in the palm of my hand. It was so delicate and fragile. This dark and beautiful object tasted so sweet.

I put it in my mouth – just for a moment

and then it was gone.

If I Can Do it – So Can You

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I remember making a book when I was little. I vaguely recall the story had something to do with a family of animals living near a beach. I made drawings of weird dog-like creatures on pieces of paper that I folded to look like pages. My grandfather liked it, and that was good enough for me.

It never occurred to me that I could make a real book. Even as I got older – such a thing seemed so far removed from the realm of possibility. Books were made by famous authors and illustrators.. not regular people like me.

That was what I thought… until I met Tad Smith.

I met Tad at an art gallery where I was one of the exhibiting artists in a group show. Since Tad and I were both artists, conversation came easily. I couldn’t help but smile when he told me that my paintings would be perfect for a children’s book. That had always been a dream of mine, I explained. So when Tad told me about his book: Tales of a Tombstone, AZ Tortoise – it blew my mind.

Suddenly, I realized that books CAN be made by regular people like me.

If Tad could do it – so could I..

And if I can do it – so can you.

To Paint Like A Child

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“Salvation and Desire” – painting by Michele Bledsoe

 

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”  Pablo Picasso

I am not sure what it means “to paint like a child” to Picasso..

but I know what it means to me.

To paint like a child does not mean a return to the artistic skill level of a toddler.

Scribbles and stick figures. Blobs of random colors. Lopsided animals.

To paint like a child is to paint with abandon.. a complete lack of inhibition and restraint.

When you put a piece of paper in front of a child

they don’t agonize over what to draw.

They don’t make preliminary sketches or thumbnail drawings.

They don’t concern themselves with composition or concepts.

They don’t follow trends or make statements.

They don’t worry about what it means..

They just start drawing.

 

When I paint, I  put a blob of raw umber acrylic paint on my palette,

pick up a paintbrush and start drawing on the canvas until it is done.

When the drawing is finished – I paint it.

That’s it.

Stream of consciousness..

the painting becomes whatever it wants to be.

That’s how every one of my paintings begins..

And that’s how every illustration in The Secret Kingdom came to be.

The Journey to The Secret Kingdom

richard and michelePhoto by Sebastiao Pereira

Richard Bledsoe’s in-depth article offers a unique perspective on the story behind the creation of The Secret Kingdom.

THE JOURNEY TO THE SECRET KINGDOM (part 1).

THE JOURNEY TO THE SECRET KINGDOM (part 2).

THE JOURNEY TO THE SECRET KINGDOM (part 3).

My Easel and I: A Love Story

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For the first 24 years of my life, I drew pictures. Pencils, pens and paper were my only art supplies.  The huge callus on the middle finger of my right hand was a testament to the decades I spent feverishly pouring my imagination out onto pieces of paper. As a self-taught artist, it never occurred to me to use anything other than the tools that were readily available.  Why would I want anything else? I was happy.

The Christmas before he died, my father bought me an easel.

In other words, he saved my life.

Since I had never painted before, on Christmas morning I stood before that strange metal object in front of me with my mouth hanging open. My father went on to explain how much he wanted to give me an easel – describing his amusing trip to the local art supply store to buy something he knew nothing about. At the time, he didn’t even know what it was called. My father told me that all the easels were made of wood, except the one he bought. He gave me a solid steel easel because he wanted it “to last forever.”

Words cannot express the depth of my love for my father. When he died, it tore me apart. That easel became the rock that I clung to through the maelstrom of my grief, and I taught myself how to paint.

I painted as if my life depended on it… and it did.

That was almost 25 years ago, and I have been painting ever since. Now, I understand that there are easels out there that would probably better suit my method and my materials – but for me, there will never be another easel other than the one my father gave me. Every single one of my paintings was made on that easel, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is going to last forever.

And Then You Blink..

AndThenYouBlink

I believe that every painting is a self-portrait of the artist who created it… and this one is no exception. It is a portrait of me and my husband, Richard. Apart from being filled with private symbolism and deep personal meaning, the painting is named after one of the weird inside jokes we share. It is titled “And Then You Blink”. I seriously considered using this painting as the cover image for The Secret Kingdom. Instead, it became the inspiration for the author photo on the back of the book. As you can see, it shows the two of us subtly mimicking that pose.

back cover

The Weird Inside Joke:

Richard is a blogger. Years ago, when he discovered that you could insert a “mood” into posts, he selected one called “BUSY”.  Sure enough, the word “busy” showed at the top of the post… accompanied by a frantic looking emoticon. It’s mouth was opening and closing as if it were talking really fast… and then it would blink. For some reason, I found this incredibly funny.

So, Richard would imitate the emoticon for me, moving his mouth really fast, he would say: “talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk…”

And I would add, “And then you blink.”

 

Michele Bledsoe 07/19/2014