I’ve been following Judy Dykstra-Brown’s lifelessons blog for more than five years, and I have found her to be incredibly creative and funny and intellectually stimulating. I’m so pleased that she agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: In 2001 you made the decision to move from California to Mexico. Why there?
Judy Dykstra-Brown: Many years before, I had met a man in China who told me that I should be living in San Miguel, Mexico. He had been there and knew lots about it and we had talked many times as we were travelling together. I kept this in the back of my mind as a place it would be good to retire to once I’d traveled to more far-flung places. My husband was 16 years older than me and we operated on a frantic pace, driving all over the U.S. to do shows and putting in long days at home creating. His sculptures got bigger and bigger—some of them weighing over a ton, and our setup for our shows was 12 hours long, our teardown 4 hours. We were always the first ones at shows for setup and the last ones there for teardown. I could tell Bob was wearing out and had tried for a few years to convince him to retire, but he was convinced we would starve if we didn’t do shows. I, on the other hand, knew that every penny we made ended up being spent on new tools, supplies and art studios. (We had 7 on our property, with Bob building a new one every two years, not to mention buying or building new tools for the new mediums he ventured into, pulling me along after him. So, I finally said I was moving to Mexico for a year and he could move down to the first level of the house where my jewelry studio was and rent out the top story and send me half the money. In the end, he came with me, protesting all the way. The first week, driving down and driving around San Miguel, he hated it. By the eighth day, he was proposing we buy a house there! This was after he was offered a job teaching sculpture at a new art center in a hacienda outside the town. So, that was our plan until after 8 weeks in San Miguel, we took a little side trip to Ajijic and Bob fell in love with it.
AL: Unfortunately, Bob was unable to move to Mexico with you, because he passed away suddenly. Your book Lessons from a Grief Diary, which you co-wrote with Dr. Anthony Moriarity, details your journey through your husband’s cancer diagnosis, death, and its aftermath. It draws from your journaling during that time, with additional insights from Moriarity, a clinical psychologist. What made you decide to share your pain? What was it like to have a co-author?
JD-B: After 8 years mourning my husband, I ventured out into the world via Match.com but after a number of months, realized I was not going to find a match there, so switched to OkCupid. It was a very different site back then and drew many creative people. It has since been purchased by Match.Com and so has dropped all the features I loved, but the real point is that this marked a change in me and I actually met a number of very interesting men, some of whom ended up coming down to Mexico so we could meet in person. It was at this point that I gave a talk for a local lecture series that talked about my process of grief recovery. Tony, who was in the states at the time, did not hear the speech, but he heard about it and asked me if I could send him a transcript. I did, and it was he who convinced me I needed to write a book about it and asked if he could write alternating chapters.
The co-authoring worked out very well. I handed chapters over to Tony as I wrote them, he wrote his replies and I edited them. He had about every book on the grieving process ever written and so we compiled an annotated reading list at the end of the book that in itself is a valuable resource.
AL: When you started your blogin 2013, your initial intention was to help people through grief, but your focus soon changed to sharing your life, and encouraging people through your life lessons. There’s a lot of positivity and humor on your blog, especially in some of your poems. You have over 6,000 followers. What do you hope readers will take away from your blog?
JD-B: I hope it makes them laugh and think and take risks and realize that even if the way we experience life changes as we age, an excitement with life need not wane. Even limited to your own house and yard, nature and just the fact we exist with all our complicated inner workings is such a miracle that even the observing of it can be enough. Having a way in which to express this amazement is a huge help as well, be it art, writing, music, dance, or even volunteering, interacting with animals or thinking about your long incredible life.
AL: You are one of my very favorite poets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been delighted by a turn of phrase or an unexpected twist in your poems. Your meter and rhymes are impeccable, and the words flow like music. Where did you learn to write poetry like that? When did you start? Who are your influences, your favorite poets?
JD-B: When she was young, my mother kept a rhymed journal. We absolutely loved having her read it to us. Everything was perfectly rhymed and metered and hilarious. When my mom passed away, I asked my sister, who lived in the same town where my mom had lived, to send it to me and she told me that my mother had decided it was silly and burned it years ago. I was so disappointed. She also wrote humorous plays for her women’s club to perform at state conventions. My friends and I performed one of them for a talent show once.
Well, long story short, whenever someone in my family deserved teasing, she and I would sit down and write a rhymed poem about them. Some appreciated it and others didn’t, but we certainly enjoyed writing them. I think as a result of this that an ear and eye for rhythm and rhyme just grew up with me. By the time I got to college, where I took every creative writing and journalism course that was offered, rhymed poetry was not in “style,” so I wrote mainly short stories. Later, I studied screen writing which wasn’t my bag and substituted a poetry class and joined a writer’s workshop in Hollywood. Everything that had drained my soul in the TV world was healed when I started writing (still unrhymed) poetry, and with one 5-year hiatus (which is another story that I’ll tell if another question leads up to it) I’ve been writing poetry ever since.
I started writing rhymed and metered poetry on my blog when I started following word prompts on WordPress. I’ve been thinking (and even occasionally dreaming) in rhyme ever since. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of writing a poem in my sleep, grab my computer from the bookcase headboard of my bed, jot down as much of it as I can remember, and go on following where it leads me. I think the reason why I prefer to write in rhyme is that it limits my choices and makes it easier not to “block.” I write one line, then run through the alphabet to find every word that rhymes with the last word I’ve written, pick one and make a sentence that leads up to it. It is a game that creates an end product that is as much a surprise to me as I hope it is to the reader. I absolutely love the project. Poet friends have told me it is keeping me from writing more serious work, but I notice most of them are not writing much at all. I write one or two poems a day and have for the past 7 years. I love waking up in the morning and doing so. Can’t wait to feed the dogs and cats and then jump back into bed to write. I sleep with my computer plugged in on the headboard of my bed. It is the last thing I do before I fall asleep and first thing (after feeding the animals) I do in the morning. I have quit all activities that occur before 2 pm in the afternoon to devote myself to writing in the morning.
AL: You’ve authored one book of poetry for adults. Any chance another poem collection will be coming out? (Please, please, please.)
I actually have poems selected for several books, but I keep putting off doing the final formatting. I think the first one will be poems about family and growing up in the same town I was living in in Prairie Moths, my first book of poetry.
I also have two autobiographical books that have been finished for years—I just can’t make myself do the final edit and I hate the business part of trying to find an agent or publisher. I will probably self-publish them—if I ever get around to it. I have another book project that involves my humorous poems about aging, but it is a book with a twist, and I’m not telling what that twist is!
[Note from Andrea: All you agents and publishers out there, here’s your chance to snag a great client!]
AL: You’ve written several books for children. Are they all in verse?
JD-B: Yes. My illustrator just finished the illustrations for a third one. The illustrations are sitting to my left waiting to be scanned and formatted. I just keep putting it off.
AL: You collaborate with illustrator Isidro Xilonzochitl. How did you meet? Why did you decide to work with him? Describe your process as a team.
JD-B: When I moved to Mexico 19 years ago, I had thought I was moving here with my husband. Unfortunately, two days before we were to move down to the house we’d bought here, we went to our doctor’s office to get the results of physicals we’d had the week before and discovered my husband had pancreatic cancer. He lived for 3 weeks. And so, when I actually moved down to Mexico two months later, I was moving alone to a place where I knew no one except for my real estate agent! Since I was interested in art, I started making the rounds of galleries and one of the first artists whose work I was attracted to was Isidro. I bought several of his paintings and through him I met a number of young Mexican artists who formed a group called ARCOC. I was adopted as their sole female comrade and we put on several art shows, art experiences for kids and art contests for kids. When I started my poetry reading series, it was in a coffee shop Isidro and his partner at that time opened up on the ground floor of his studio. We’ve been friends ever since.
I actually wrote most of the children’s books years before but had done nothing with them. I asked if he’d be interested in illustrating them and he said yes. His partner at the time, Kristina, had grown up in the states and so she translated them to him for illustration purposes. I set up the books, minus illustrations, and the two of them collaborated over how he would illustrate them—with hilarious results, I think.
AL:Which poetry journals did you edit? What did you look for in poetry submissions?
JD-B: I ran a reading series at a local coffee shop here in San Juan Cosala, Mexico, for two years. I also edited an anthology of writing by high school students when I was a teacher in Cheyenne, Wyoming after coming home from Africa. It was entitled The Spiral Notebook. In L.A. I was one of the editors of The Sculpture Garden Review, which was not, despite its title, an art journal but a poetry journal. I also ran a reading series at the art center in the San Lorenzo Valley near Santa Cruz, CA. Recently, that entire valley was evacuated due to fires and at least one of my friends lost his house, others won’t be able to go back for a year until water and electricity is restored. So sad.
The ten women in a women’s writing group I started here in Mexico also published an anthology entitled Agave Marias, stories and poems about crossing borders and breaking boundaries. That anthology is available on Amazon, as are all of my books. Oh. An interesting sidelight of Prairie Moths was that some years after I published it, I got an email from a man in Oregon who said, “I am the youngest boy in your pictures of your grandparents standing in front of their homestead with their daughter and her 8 sons.” He was a cousin, at least 20 years older than me, that I had only met once when he passed with his family through South Dakota on their way back to Utah, where they lived. I believe I was 10 or 11 then. We started up a correspondence after his first email to me and he invited my sisters and me to come to their family reunion and we all went. I came from Mexico, one sister from Wyoming and another from Minnesota. It was fabulous. Only two of the first cousins were still alive, but there were at least a hundred people there who were their descendants. Since then one of the first cousins and one of the first cousins once removed has passed away, but I’m still in touch with the one who wrote to me, who is now in his nineties.
What I look for in poetry is originality, word choice, and heart. Although I presently write mostly rhymed and metered poetry, I mainly do so because somehow the prompts force me to. I don’t know why. It is also a sort of game I play to keep my mind working. I used to do crossword puzzles. Now I do metered rhyme. I really do think as we grow older that it is vital to exercise our minds.
AL: What advice would you give to a beginning poet?
JD-B: I think many beginning poets think that poems should rhyme but with almost no exceptions, I encourage them not to try to rhyme. The thing we need to learn to do is to follow where our mind leads us—to write without editing and without stopping—just to write what comes and to edit later. Then, to edit remorselessly. It is important to get to that place in ourselves that we wouldn’t necessarily get to through reason or careful plotting.
AL: Can you define retablo for us? When did you start making them? How did you begin?
JD-B: The retablo is a frame or shelf enclosing decorated panels or revered objects above and behind an altar in a church. In Mexico, it is a box which contains a figure, photo or painting of the Virgin Mary, Christ or some other saint and sometimes little votive offerings or objects. Most homes have at least one. I took the idea but it quickly evolved into themes that were not religious. I tended to work around a certain theme. One year it was saints, another it was famous artists, another Mexican legends, traditions or places I visited. I have created one for each family member or friend who died. I’ve even done one on the Coronavirus.
AL: Any more funny stories you can tell us about your work? (See Tuesday’s post for the previous ones.)
JD-B: When I was in Peru, I bought a few small oil-on-canvas paintings of saints and the Virgin Mary, thinking I would turn them into retablos. I worked for a long time on one of the Virgin, adding first tiny beautifully crafted wooden musical instruments. I didn’t know why but then I started adding little books and pages of poems taken from a miniature book of poetry, pen nibs and other objects associated with music and poetry. When it was finished, Isidro’s cousin Eduardo was at my house for some reason and he saw the retablo and said, “Huh. Santa Cecilia!” I said no, it was the Virgin and he said, no that it was definitely Santa Cecilia. After he left I consulted Google and sure enough, it was Santa Cecilia, patron saint of poets and musicians! She had somehow attracted to herself the exact appropriate symbols.
To close this interview, I am adding links to a few more of Judy Dykstra-Brown’s poems (and photographs):
When I first started blogging more than five years ago, one of the first blogs I discovered was lifelessons–a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown. I took part in blogging challenges, and so did Judy. As I perused other responses to the challenges, I often found Judy’s, and often they were poems–very good poems. I was hooked.
When I asked Judy if I could interview her for ARHtististic License, I was thrilled that she agreed. I knew she was interesting, but I didn’t realize the depth of her genius until I read her responses. Frankly, she sent me so much material that I soon realized I couldn’t squeeze it all into one article and do her justice. So I’m breaking it into two parts. If by the time you get to the end of this article you’re dying for more, you’ll have to just click on the link above to her blog until Saturday, when Part II will appear here on ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: You have worn many hats: English teacher, television production, artist, poetry journal editor, photographer, author, and blogger. Did I get everything?
Judy Dykstra-Brown: I was also the curator of shows for an art center.
AL:You have lived in interesting places, including Australia and Ethiopia. What took you there?
JD-B: From the time I was a tiny girl, I wanted to travel. When I was 11, I asked my folks if I could go on a tour for teenagers organized by Seventeen magazine. Of course, they refused, but by the time I was in high school I was driving all over the state to All State Chorus, district MYF meetings for the church we belonged to, and basketball games. I was the youngest of three daughters and they had sort of worn out in terms of driving kids, so I was given a lot more freedom than my sisters. Finally, during my junior year in college, they agreed to let me go on World Campus Afloat—a college campus on a boat that sailed around the world, stopping at a number of ports during its 4 month journey. They thought it would get travel out of my system, but I couldn’t wait to graduate and go back to my favorite place on the trip: Kenya. I absolutely loved Africa, but the only two places in the world that advertised that they would hire a teacher with no experience were Isfran, Iran and Australia. So I actually emigrated to Australia and taught there for a year and a half before taking off to travel through Timor, Bali, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and finally—Africa. Due to a series of misadventures, I ended up staying and teaching school in Ethiopia for a year and a half while my travel companion went on without me.
AL: You were a television production assistant. What shows did you work on? How did you land that job?
JD-B: I did P.R. and publicity for The Bob Hope Specials on NBC and also for his specials in Denmark and Tahiti.
I was studying film production and Screenwriting at UCLA and participating in an actor’s studio as well, thinking I needed to know all sides of the business, but after working on a couple of documentaries, I became disillusioned with the dynamics and decided to take a poetry class to regain my soul. I took two semesters from an excellent poetry teacher at UCLA and then heard about a charismatic actor and poet, Jack Grapes, so switched to his weekly workshop. There I became friends with a woman who was an assistant in charge of public-relations and publicity for Bob Hope. At that time, my income suddenly dried up when a company who bought a ranch I had a share in defaulted on their loan payments and we had to repossess the ranch my sisters and mother and I had inherited when my dad died.
I had quit teaching a couple of years before to come to CA to write the great American novel (still unfinished nearly 40 years later.) My friend had not had a raise in the 6 years she’d worked for Hope, plus no health insurance, and when they wouldn’t give her a raise, she quit. Her boss asked if there was anyone she could recommend to take her job. Knowing I was suddenly without a means of support, she suggested me. Her boss asked about me and she said I was a poet and studying film production, but the thing that really earned me the job was that I had spent a few years traveling through Australia, Indonesia, Asia and Africa after I’d graduated from college, ending up in Ethiopia where I got a job teaching English in a local school and had a number of adventures.
It turned out that the man hiring me was a travel writer for the L.A. times during the 5 months a year when everyone in the production company was laid off because there was no show in production. So, I got a job in publicity and P.R. not because I had any experience in those fields but because of my poetry and my travel experience. I was actually at a poetry conference in Napa when I got a phone call from my friend and her boss interviewed me over the phone. At the end of our talk, he asked me to come in for one week on a trial basis when I came back to L.A., and I ended up working there for 3 years until I married and moved to Boulder Creek.
AL: When did you begin making art? Do you have any special art training?
JD-B: I started doing art when I had writer’s block and Jack Grapes, who headed up my writer’s workshop in Hollywood, forbid me to write and told me to do art instead. I insisted that I didn’t know anything about making art and he said, “That’s why I want you to do it. You know too much about literature and writing and that is getting in your way. You’re too concerned about what you ‘should’ be doing. I want you to do something you don’t know how to do!” So I went to a variety store—what we once would have called a dime store, and just bought a bunch of silly stuff: confetti, a rubber mouse and other assorted things. The summer before, the man who became my husband and I went on a driving vacation through Europe and I was amused by all the various little disposable aluminum jam and butter receptacles and I’d saved them all. I cut them up into three-dimensional shapes and took my poems and cut them in thin strips and made little figures out of them and glued them to heavy watercolor paper along with the things I’d bought. They were totally silly but I had such fun making them. I remember the first one I made had the title “Party Mouse Wants To Come Play But Can’t.” It included a rubber mouse and the confetti with a little fence around the mouse and I don’t remember what else, all glued to a Morilla block. At any rate, Jack had told me to bring them to next week’s workshop, but I was embarrassed and just left them in the car. When my turn came to present, he asked me if I’d done the art he told me to and I said yes, but they were dumb. He asked where they were and I said in the car and he told me to go down and get them. So I did, and they passed them around the circle.
At the end of the session, a woman came up to me who had a gallery in L.A. and she asked if she could exhibit them there. I was too embarrassed and said no, I wasn’t really an artist, but within a few months, I had married Bob, who was an artist and also a poet. We moved up to the redwoods and I fully intended to go back to teaching. I had taken and passed the CBEST test and planned on applying to teach the next year so Bob could stop teaching and do art full time. In the interim, I was doing little collages on stone and he said if I was going to do collage I needed to learn more about joining than simple cold joining. He talked me into taking a silversmithing class and that class led to another and another with the result that I never did go back to teaching and I ended up making my living making silver jewelry for the next 14 years. After my second class, he entered two of my pieces into the CA State Fair and I won first prize for them. I was astonished. He also entered me in an art fair in Oceanside. I was so embarrassed, but was delighted when people bought the jewelry. I took a photo of every person who bought a piece of my jewelry that day! Ha. Later I became a papermaker and made washi shades for all of my husband’s lamps, then started making art lamps myself as well. I didn’t go back to writing for 5 years. By then I was the curator of an art center and curated a show called “The Poet’s Eye, The Artist’s Tongue” which wedded art and poetry. I wrote a poem to go with another artist’s painting and then ended up doing several other art pieces that involved words which lead to starting a reading series at the gallery. And Jack was right. I came back to writing from a completely different slant after that.
AL: Do you have any funny stories about your work?
JD-B: When I was making jewelry, I remember feeling as though it was a very self-indulgent pastime. Prior to moving to California, I had been an English teacher for 10 years and felt that although I loved being a metal smith, it wasn’t really a job that was of benefit to anyone else. I think I had been doing shows for about three years and every time I did a show within 50 miles or so of San Francisco, one woman would always come and buy at least one piece of jewelry. Then two and sometimes three pieces. Then during one show, she came up to me and said, “You know you have changed my whole life.” Puzzled, I asked how that could be, and she said, “Well, you know I’m a nurse, and every year I go to this convention of health workers and because I’m not very outgoing, I never really used to meet anyone, but then three years ago, I wore one of your brooches, and people kept coming up to me and asking about it and because you always told me the stories behind the pieces, I had something to talk to them about. Pretty soon, every time I’d go to one, people would come up to see what new piece of jewelry I had, and eventually I knew lots of people and because we’d already broken the ice, we always had something to talk about”. My husband Bob always did say that he thought art could change the world, and I guess after that, I believed him. Never again did I question the worth of what I was doing.
About the above photos, Judy says, “These are some of the hundreds of vases Bob made so we could do shows together–me selling my jewelry and him the vases. I only have one–the carved dragon–only because the lady who bought it gave it back to me after he died. I’m looking at it now as I keep it on my desk.”
JD-B: Okay, another story. When I started doing shows, my husband Bob, who was a sculptor, decided he wanted to do something on a smaller scale than his very big sculptures so he could do shows with me, so he started making incredible ikebana vases out of wood, stone and bamboo. Each vase he made was unique and I would do an ikebana arrangement in each one. After a few years, those vases grew into huge lamps and I started making handmade paper lampshades that looked more like big sails or big cocoons than traditional lampshades. Some of the large lamps were rather expensive and there was one couple who would come to every show in San Francisco, Sausalito and the surrounding towns in the bay area. They would spend a long time looking at each lamp, but never bought anything. Finally, after three years or so, the man came to a show in Sausalito and bought three of our most expensive lamps. As I wrote up the order, I couldn’t help but ask why, after all these years, he had finally bought not a lamp, but three of them!
Because, he told me, that entire time he knew he was going to divorce his wife and he didn’t want her to get the lamps in a divorce settlement! And, the plot thickens. We delivered the lamps to his house, then went back to do two more days of the show. The day after the show ended, there was a Cirque de Soleil show in San Francisco, so we spent an extra night at my friend Sharon’s house in Berkeley so we could go to see it. The tent was so full that we couldn’t find three seats together, so Bob sat in the front row in front of the stage and Sharon and I sat in seats far away higher up in the risers on the side of the stage. During one performance, clowns started drawing people from the audience to come up on stage and Bob was one of the first people they chose. Now I must explain that Bob had a Santa Claus beard and long white hair that came to his shoulders. He loved wild Balinese-print batik pants, and red high-top suede sneakers. He was a handsome man and although rather quiet in private life, on the stage he came alive. Accustomed to performing his poetry in public, he was much more at ease center-stage than he was fighting it out with the hoi-polloi in real life. So, of course, the clowns made much of his hair and clothes, but Bob gave them back tit for tat and the crowd was laughing as loudly at his quips as those of the clowns. So, when they sent the rest of the people back to their seats, they kept Bob up on the stage for another 5 minutes or so.
The show ended and as Sharon and I stood in front of the tent waiting for Bob to find us, who should stroll up but the big spender who had just purchased our three lamps! He was with a very pretty girl and when he saw me, he came right over to me and asked where Bob was. I explained and he said, “Well, there’s someone here I have to introduce him to!” Turns out that before the show, as they were sitting in the audience, he started telling her about these fantastic lamps he had just bought, describing Bob as this eccentric character. She asked why eccentric, what did he look like, and just then, he looked up and the clowns were pulling Bob up to the stage. “He looks like that!” he said. “That’s the man!” The girl would not believe him. It was just too much of a coincidence to be true. We were in a town where neither of us lived, not even the town where he’d purchased the lamps. The chance that we would run into each other was just about nil and yet, there was the object of his story, up on the stage at Cirque de Soleil! And just then, Bob strolled up, and the girl was finally convinced.
Above are some of the beautiful lamps made by Bob and Judy. Click on an image to enlarge it.
Do you agree that Judy Dykstra-Brown is an amazing artist and a captivating intellect? Be sure to check back on Saturday for the conclusion of this interview.
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I discovered Doreen Auger about five years ago when I stumbled on her blog, Treadlemusic. She makes quilts and takes simple vintage household items and turns them into masterpieces with her intricate free-motion quilting.
Free-motion quilting means lowering the feed dogs on your sewing machine so you can manipulate the layers of fabric and batting to accommodate swirling and spiraling and stippling patterns with your stitches. It’s something like riding a bicycle without training wheels—you have a great amount of freedom, but it requires some skill to get positive results. I’m thankful that Doreen agreed to share her expertise and her warm personality with ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: When did you start quilting? How did you learn?
Doreen Auger: I taught myself. Mom wanted to teach me but, being the tom-boy, I wasn’t going to go there! BUT, she had the last word….by giving me/us a sewing machine for a wedding gift. Our 2 boys came along and needed clothes and we had a very tight budget! Enter my determination to learn. That was 53+ years ago!!
AL: You pick up vintage pieces (dresser scarves, pillowcases, quilt tops, etc.) and embellish them with your gorgeous free-motion quilting (also known by the acronym FMQ). What are you on the lookout for, and where do you find them? How do you decide what designs to do?
DA: Those pieces really find me! Friends discover they have these pieces and don’t know what to do with them and I find myself the honored recipient of them. 50’s tablecloths are wonderful to “upcycle” and I use them every day. My quilting ideas come from the piece itself after viewing it while pin-basting and……many ideas come in my dreams! LOL! When I’m really a blank, I doodle in my sketchbook and check out Pinterest.
AL: Do you belong to a guild or a quilting group?
DA: I belong to several quilt groups—each with different personalities. One is a “longarmers” group (I’m the only “sit-down” quilter!), one is needlework of all types and the other 2 are quilting—both hand and machine BUT the last 3 groups are primarily “piecers” not “quilters”. I only piece of necessity to get to the part of the process I love!
AL: Do you teach FMQ? Tell me about that. Do you teach certain designs, or how do you structure your lessons? Do you teach at a store, or at events?
DA: I do teach and do trunk shows. The most interest is in the vintage linen quilting. Most have never thought of even doing it. The teaching topics range from very basic beginner to FEATHERS….of course! Everyone wants to do feathers, hmmmm???
AL: Would you hazard a guess as to how many quilts you’ve made or how many quilts you’ve quilted for others?
DA: I, sadly, am not one to keep track of such things and I do regret it now. Most are/have been given/donated. An example would be, while in Texas last winter (Dec. through the end of April), I made and donated 7 bed-sized quilts. In the course of a year I do, maybe, a dozen large quilts and fill in with the small/medium pieces that utilize the linens.
AL: What kind of quilts do you most like to make?
DA: I like any type….retro, modern, traditional whatever, as long as I can quilt them, I’m happy. The more modern style is a bit of a challenge for me and I enjoy the process of “thinking outside the box”.
AL: What is your favorite sewing machine for free-motion quilting, and why?
DA: I have 2 favorites: a Juki 2010Q (domestic with a 9” harp) straight stitch, industrial for home use (meaning it has an internal motor rather than a table mounted type separate from the machine itself) and my Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen, sit-down mid-arm. LUV them both. The Juki is an incredible piecing machine with a thread cutter and knee operated pressure foot lifter AND awesome for FMQ! I, also, have a Juki in our Winter Texas place.
AL: Tell us about your fabric stash.
DA:Wow! Now, that’s a topic!!! Totes…almost too many to count! Some are sorted by color, by seasonal (winter/Christmas), batiks, special interest (woodworking, hunting, RV) AND, of course, linens!
AL: What are your favorite colors?
DA: Purple……surprise! Just kidding a bit. I love green in all of its varieties of hues and tints. Although I like pastels, it’s the “cozy” feel that most often draws my eye. Reproduction/Americana fabrics seem to have a prominent place in my stash.
AL: What is a project you’re looking forward to starting?
DA: Always the next one. While I’m finishing the binding or label on the current endeavor, my mind is straying to the “what’s next”. Right now, it’s a Christmas gift for our son/DIL. A king size Mariner’s Compass piecing that I did using a Dream Big flower panel for one of the components. This one is proving to be a creative challenge as it’s going to have a more contemporary feel (the outer border is floral so, maybe, a feather or two will appear!!!!).
AL: What advice would you give to a quilter who is timidly considering free-motion quilting? How would you suggest he or she begin?
DA: I am self-taught in this art, also. Check out some online quilters’ blogs and start looking to see just what it is that intrigues you. Figure out ‘why’ you want to learn this part of the process. Is it because you want the finish to be completely done by you? Is there a creative part of you looking for an outlet? Advice: be realistic when it comes to your personal learning curve. Do NOT be hard on yourself……we all learn differently and at different paces. Make sure your machine is in tip top working order (clean, etc.) and you know how to set it up properly for FMQ. Do you have a FMQ foot? Drop the feed dogs-or not? Get a cheap sketchpad and doodle..lots! Practice 15 minutes a day….every day (rather than big chunks of time sporadically). Make sure your chair is at proper height for your machine (so your elbows are at 90 degree angle when resting on the table. You must have some type of an extension table…..just the free-arm is too narrow of an area. It’s a new journey….even if you have sewn for years….this is different. Your final skill level achieved may not be the same as anyone else…..we are all different. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories?
DA: Not really “funny” but, when teaching my workshops (beginner or not), it’s quite fascinating to observe how intensely focused the gals are when stitching and trying to get them to take a break…..well, that’s almost impossible!!!! They’re “sweating bullets” but would prefer to work right through a lunch break!!! I love it!!! And, always, they have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
AL: You spend the winters in Texas and the warmer months in Minnesota. Where did you grow up? What are the joys and challenges of splitting the year between two different states?
DA: The St. Paul Metro area is where I grew up but we lived in both Minneapolis and St. Paul before buying our little hobby farm in extreme southeast Minnesota, outside the very small town of Houston. It’s been 46 years since that move! Wintering in Texas, for the past 6 years, has been interesting. DH got weary of the snow/cold and we both agreed that Arizona (where all our friends go) and Florida didn’t hold an attraction. Deep South Texas has the beaches (South Padre Island) and the warmth we wanted with the added perk of extremely reasonable living costs (cheapest in the nation!). Now that I have my little sewing nest set up comfortably, it is amazing. There are few quilt shops in the immediate vicinity so I try to plan just how much (and what) of my stash I’ll need to bring down there………trying to remember the limitations imposed by the interior dimensions of our car!!
From a couple of years ago: Doreen with her husband, Tom. Doreen says, “My bike is a ’96 HD Heritage Softail Classic. Tom’s is an HD Road King.”
AL: How long have you been riding a motorcycle? And why?
DA: My love of biking goes back to when I was a late teen. No personal experience but just totally enamored of them. When I met Tom, our 2nd date was a several hundred mile ride to southern MN…mostly spent in rain!!! Over the years, living on our farmlet, bikes & go-carts were the recreation of choice for our boys, Tom and I. Dirt bikes were easy to maneuver and learn on. We began going to the Sturgis Rally, back in the early 90s, with our club. I realized that, while I was riding behind Tom, if something were to happen and I needed “wheels”, I would need to get my own license. Just before my 50th birthday (in April), I signed up for a motorcycle safety course and got the required license and have been loving it ever since. Now, at 74, I find myself at the quilting more than the biking, though. I still have my Harley.
AL: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your quilts?
DA: Quilting has changed over the years, as has all art forms. It becomes what the current generation brings to it. The process adapts and is filtered through present life experiences and comes out unique to the present. I consider myself a textile artist who specializes in the FMQ portion of the quilting process. It is a creative outlet that I’m DRIVEN to do and is a significant part of who I am. My creative expression, also, takes form in my piano music. My monthly piano moments at a local hospital is a great blessing to me and, I pray, to those visiting the clinic. Sharing my baking/cooking with family and others makes up another facet. All that I’ve shared has been given to me as an amazing gift from my Lord and Savior for the purpose of sharing with others. Its value is only truly realized when these fabric pieces or music or kitchen sharings, etc., are taken to heart by another in need of a day-brightener.
All photographs in this article are the property of Doreen Auger. Used with permission.
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When I first started blogging, I quickly discovered Cee Neuner through her photography challenges. She was one of the first bloggers I followed (she has 10,624 followers), and I’ve been a frequent participant in photo challenges ever since because of her influence.
ARHtistic License:Back in the day before you contracted Lyme Disease, what sort of work did you do?
Cee Neuner: In my last year of high school (1979), I was lucky enough to be chosen to learn word processing, which was new at the time, so that actually created a good secretarial platform for me. Since then I’ve been on the leading edge of computer technology. I also have a legal secretary degree from a vocational school. Back in the days when the world needed secretaries and word processors I was highly employable. I worked basically as a word processor since my technical skills were good. In my later years I was a Sales Administrative Assistant for Mission Foods (tortilla company) and Staples (office products in their Business to Business department). I also worked as a software quality assurance tester for a couple of years, and as a tech writer.
AL:How long have you been taking photographs? How did you get started? What is it that you like about photography? Have you ever been a professional photographer?
CN: I’ve always been interested in photography. I don’t know how many Instamatic cameras I’ve bought over the years. The only thing that really stopped me from taking photos was the cost of film and the processing of it. Once digital cameras came along, I began making photography my hobby. My first real good camera had a flower macro setting and that is what hooked me on flowers. That was around 2007, and that is when I got serious.
I feel so comfortable and creative when I’m behind the camera lens, the world transforms for me. I see the world and its parts in a totally different way. I don’t have the words to explain it. It’s a magical thing.
In terms of being paid for my photography, yes, people have paid for my photography. So that does make me a professional photographer, but I don’t do it as a business. Being the introvert that I am, I don’t have a major sales presence. I have countless hours of practice both behind the lens and on post-processing, and in that sense I’m definitely a professional.
AL: Do you have any formal photography training?
CN: No, not by education in a classroom. I did take a couple local classes, but it was very informal and there was not any kind of credit given. Instead, I study everyone who takes photos and I determine what I like or don’t like about a photograph. I’m constantly learning from bloggers and other photographers. And in my opinion, I am constantly improving as a photographer as time and experience dictate. I’m always learning.
AL: You used to have some composition lessons on your blog—I think they were in connection with the Compose Yourself Challenge. I miss those. Did you ever teach photography?
I would love to teach people how to take good and interesting photographs. To me photography is all about getting a good photo to start with. It’s less about the camera and lenses or even about the technical aspects of the camera or post processing software. It’s all about composition and what goes into capturing a good photo.
I am actually thinking next year I will bring back my Tips and Tricks and do those weekly, possibly as a challenge. Or maybe start a “Dear Cee” column answering questions about photography or taking photos, or fixing up someone’s photo. It’s still all rolling around in my head.
AL: Over the years, you’ve hosted many photo challenges. Now you’re down to four, but you’re a clearinghouse for many different kinds of artistic blogging challenges. Why do you like challenges? Why do you recommend them for bloggers and artists in all media?
CN: Challenges keep me thinking and learning more about photography and even more about taking photos of different types of subjects. I started out with basically being a floral photographer, but over the years I’ve learned how to take photos of just about anything. When on an outing with my camera, I’m always looking for something different to capture or a different way of capturing something ordinary.
Artistic bloggers love to share what they are passionate about. Challenges are a great place for them to practice and learn more. It is also a place for them to teach their art. We want to share our work with others and hope they enjoy what we do.
AL: Most of your photographs are outdoor scenes, especially of nature, like Flower of the Day. (Is that your longest running challenge?) Why do you especially love nature as the subject of your photographs?
CN: I love being outdoors. When I was really young, I lived in Northern Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior, so I guess I just relate to nature more. I am not a city girl by any stretch of the imagination. When Chris and I lived in Colorado (near Denver) we went camping weekly in the summer in the mountains, usually at 10,000 feet. In the winters we camped on the plains in Eastern Colorado.
My longest running challenge is Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge. That challenge is actually a carry over from when I used to host a challenge on a photographers community site.
My Flower of the Day Challenge is actually one of my newest challenges. I just liked posting a flower a day since I take so many flowers photos and other people started joining along, so I turned it into a challenge. That may be why you think it was my original challenge because I’ve been posting flowers from day one.
AL: Have you ever done portraits?
CN: No. I’m really not interested in posed photography, although I would like to explore doing candid or street photography more. I find if you can capture a person when they distracted and being their natural self you get a better picture.
AL: What kind of camera (or cameras) do you have? Which is your favorite?
CN: My recent camera is my Sony A7III mirrorless full frame mirrorless camera. Chris has a Sony a6000 which is our go to camera for the wide angle lens.
I don’t keep my old cameras. I usually sell them or give them away.
AL: What camera would you recommend for a novice?
CN: It depends on what the person is wanting to photograph or what level of photographer they already are. Most modern cameras can take a great photo these days. What you need to learn is how to compose and create an interesting photograph. You need to train you eye to take the photo you see. I generally recommend a good point and shoot if you are a complete beginner, or a “kit” camera with that comes with a 24-70mm lens. That lens size varies with the manufacturer, but all of the good brands have an entry level camera that usually start around $200 USD. I always encourage people to buy the camera that is one level up from what they want. That gives them room to grow as a photographer. That is always a perfect place to start because as you learn more you can buy new lenses.
There are a few things to keep in mind: Always have your camera battery charged and plenty of space on your memory card, and learn how to hold your camera, especially if you have a longer or heavier lenses. Take your camera everywhere you go, because you never know when you will want to take a photo.
AL: Is there a photographer whom you admire? Who has influenced your work?
CN: Not really. I believe in learning from everyone.
AL: How do you set about getting the particular effect you want for a shot?
CN: I basically use natural lighting, so it’s taken me a while to work with sunlight, or heavy cloud cover. I’ve learned how to use my body as a shield from the sun when taking close ups of flowers. I don’t do a lot of post-processing. I always say if it takes me more than 5 minutes to clean up a photo, it isn’t a good photograph to start with.
AL: What is your favorite kind of lens? What camera accessories do you consider essential?
CN: I use the following lenses:
Sony E-mount 18-200mm VR lens (general telephoto)
Sony FE-mount Macro 90mm fixed lens (for flowers)
Sony FE-mount 70-300mm VR lens (longer telephoto)
Sony E-mount 10-18mm VR lens (wide angle for architecture and up-close work)
My favorite “go to” lens is my 18-200 mm. It is so adaptable, especially with someone like me who isn’t very mobile.
If you learn how to take a steady photo, you won’t need to use a tripod for most of your shots. The only time I use mine is when I take photos at night.
AL: How do you organize your photos?
CN: Okay, this will show that I am a real nerd. I’m fortunate, too. I have about 150,000 photos that I’ve kept and the number keeps increasing. (I do clean my library out from time to time.). Anyhow, I’ve always key worded all my photos. My key wording gets more detailed as the years go by. I keep all my photos on an external drive so I have easy access to all of them. I can usually find a photo I need in a few seconds to sometimes a few minutes. I also have all the photos I’ve already edited or used on my blog, so I can look through those quickly. And yes, I have backups for my hard drives.
AL:What is your favorite time of day to take pictures? Why?
CN: The only time I really don’t like to take photos is from 10 am to about 3 pm. The sun is too bright and high in the sky during those hours. Flowers look flatter and the sun is often an issue and photos can be burned out easily. If you have to work with the sun, try and keep the sun to your back or the side. I rarely shoot directly into the sun during the day.
If it is a cloudy day, which it is a lot of the time in Oregon, it is much easier to get good photos. One drawback to heavy clouds, though, is that there won’t be shadows to have fun with.
Golden hours (the hours around sunrise and sunset) are superb for lighting.
AL: Have you ever had a humorous experience taking a photo? (I love funny stories.)
CN: I don’t know if you’d call them funny stories, but I’d have the best time with doing a “drive by shooting”. We call them that because since I’ve been a handicapped person with limited mobility, we’d go out driving just to find things I could photograph from the front seat of the car, a shot I could get as we drove by. You’ve known people who brake for garage sales? Well, we’re like that with wonderful things you can find while driving around.
We see a lot on the country roads around us. One time we were behind a slow moving truck with what looked like a part of a mountain laying on its side. We followed it and found out it was a mobile climbing wall that could be rented out for carnivals and the like. It was fascinating to look at. I got some great shots of that.
Another time we were wandering around and got behind the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. Really. I didn’t know there was such a thing. We followed it to a grocery store parking lot and talked with the young ladies who were driving it. Their job was to travel from store to store to promote Oscar Mayer hot dogs. They said they had a lot of fun going places and meeting people. Everyone smiled when they saw the wiener mobile, especially moms with young kids.
That’s another thing that fun about doing drive by shootings… I meet and talk with interesting people. Chris and I were driving out of town one day when we had to stop for a red light. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the most interesting van in a parking lot. I had Chris circle back around so I could take pictures of it, and then I talked with the artist who was creating it. His main line of work was painting store windows with notices of special sales, but just for fun he was turning his painter’s van into a moving art piece, all built out with 3-D statues and scenes. He was great fun to talk with.
AL: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you or your work?
I first discovered Kathy Temean’s blog, Writing and Illustrating, five or six years ago, and I’ve been following it ever since. If you like to write or draw for children, you must check it out. Kathy has been a long-time member, speaker, and regional advisor of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is very knowledgeable and helpful.
I am so thrilled that Kathy agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: What books have you written or illustrated?
Kathy Temean: I wrote and illustrated Horseplay and illustrated Yogi’s Team, and various book covers, and have written and illustrated many articles for magazines like Highlights and Sprouts. Plus I have done artwork for Individuals like Jerry & Eileen Spinelli, major corporations like McDonald’s, Pfizer and Merck, and businesses like Mullica Hill Merchant Association have commissioned my artwork.
KT: To understand that, I need to tell you about my writing journey: I went to college to study art. My only connection to writing was my Dad who wrote short stories for magazines, articles for the newspaper, and love poems for me and my mother. I am sure he would have loved to write a novel, but he worked hard to make a living to provide for his family. I had to do the same, working full time to take care of my family and doing my art on the side. When my mother and father passed away in 2001, I had the task of cleaning out their house and found all the treasures of my childhood and Dad’s writing. Oh, how I wish I had found them earlier in life. I would have loved to discuss writing with my Dad. I started write so much that I really thought my father had taken over my body. All I could do was write. Maybe it was because I was an only child and I didn’t have a brother or sister I could talk to, or just grieve, but I poured my heart out writing for hours every day and night for many, many months. With my art background and so many cherished memories and the inspiration of my father’s poems, I started writing children’s picture books. One night I got up from my desk and couldn’t take a step and had to have my knee replaced. I started thinking I should use my artistic talents to illustrate the books I wrote. Then I realized I didn’t know anything about how to write or get a book published, so I read every book I could find and did everything suggested. One of those suggestions was to join the SCBWI. I did. Went to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, won an award for my illustration titled “Boys with Bear” and met other writers, illustrators, agents, and editors.
Boys with Bear by Kathy Temean
I had worked for some major companies setting up corporate events, so I volunteered my talents to the New Jersey SCBWI chapter in order to create programs that would not only helping me navigate the road to publication, but others, too.
AL: Did you win other kudos for your illustrations?
Babes on Beach by Kathy Temean
KT: I did. “Babes on Beach” (Society of Illustrators in NYC), “Homework Helper” (SCBWI Summer Conference), “Cinco de Mayo” (PASCBWI Conference), “Exploring the Garden” (NJSCBWI), “Boys with Bear” (SCBWI Winter Conference).
Homework Helper by Kathy Temean
AL: You were the regional advisor for New Jersey SCBWI. How long did you serve in that capacity?
KT: 10 years. I stepped down at the end of 2013 and still attend the NJSCBWI events. I have conducted workshops and have done critiques at some of the NJSCBWI annual conferences.
Cinco de Mayo by Kathy Temean
AL: Tell us about your passion for children’s literature and the authors and illustrators who create them.
KT: I love children and I love to write and illustrate. Seems like a perfect combination to me. The thing I loved about being the SCBWI Regional Advisor was how I got to see writers and illustrators grow and succeed. Having a little part in that success was special. That is why I have kept up my Writing and Illustrating blog.
Exploring the Garden by Kathy Temean
AL: Tell us about your illustration work. What software do you use?
KT: I have done a lot of traditional techniques, but when Photoshop came along, I jumped on board and taught myself how to use the software. It was instalove. I love that I can play around with the colors, correct anything I don’t like. I just wish I had more time to experiment more.
AL: You also assist writers with marketing and with author websites through your consulting business. Why is an author website important?
KT: For the last two decades I have gotten upset with writers and especially illustrators for not thinking enough of their work to show it off. Facebook is nice, but not good enough. Having a website gives a writer/illustrator a chance to tell their story. Think of it as having a picture book about you. You need to put up something interesting, provide some unique content that will bring visitors back. Even if you don’t have a book out there, you want to put your best foot forward, show off a little, and get that editor, agent, or future buyer interested in you. You never know where your next opportunity will come from. Just make sure what you design and create is professional and interesting.
Cover by Kathy Temean
AL: Besides a website, what are some of the most important things authors and illustrators can do to promote their work?
KT: Don’t run scared of having a blog. Just the word can make some of my clients faint. A blog is a great thing to include with your website. Why? Because it lets give you a place to put up pictures, notices, and stories about what you are doing to help build an audience. Your website designer will not be there 24/7 to put all the new things up on your site. With a blog, you will have complete control without having to depend on and pay someone else.
You don’t have to do something every day. Think about what you can reasonably do. Could you take an afternoon once a month to come up with four things to post? If so, you can schedule them to post on four different days during the month. Hint: If you see something interesting you would like to share, put it in a file so you can get your hands on it the afternoon you schedule to come up with your four posts.
Also get a Twitter account. You can set your blog up to automatically tweet what you post. That is so helpful. And people will click on the tweet and will be steered to your site.
If you have a new book coming out, make sure you put it up on your website. I know you are thinking Duh! But I have seen that happen too many times. Also, I know a debut author who did not have a website ready for their book launch. This is very bad. Don’t let that happen to you. You can’t expect to hire someone to do a site and get it up a couple of days. I have seen some sites take a year to finish and not go live until after the debut book has been out for months on the bookshelves. Make a marketing plan or hire someone to help you accomplish that. Don’t miss your window of opportunity.
AL: Your blog is one of the most helpful I know for writers. How often do you post?
KT: I started the blog in 2009 and have blogged every day since then. Even through major operations, pneumonia, and vacations, etc.
AL: How do you keep up that blogging pace and still do everything else that you do?
KT: A lot of late nights and I try to plan what I want to feature a month ahead. Writers and illustrators should think about submitting something to me. Think about what they could send to get their name or books seen. I feature authors, books, illustrators, agents, and I am always looking for articles that would interest other writers and illustrators. I love to get submissions – an illustration I could use with a post or holiday post – poem — a how-to article – a new book with their journey – a good new announcement for a kudos post. It’s a win-win for them and me.
AL: My favorite feature is the weekly Illustrator Saturday. The posts are full of illustrations, some in various stages of completion, so that we can actually see the artists’ process. How do you find 52 illustrators every year?
KT: There are so many talented people out there. It really is amazing. I am in awe of all the talent. It is a lot of work doing Illustrator Saturday, but most illustrators see the benefit of being on a blog that gets thousands of visits every day from all over the world. Many of my visitors are agents, editors, art director, publishers, teachers, writers, and illustrators. All are lovers of children’s books.
I rarely get anyone send me a link to look over their illustrations or tell me about themselves. I think they should. Even if I don’t think they are quite ready, there could be an illustration that catches my eye and could use, which might be something that would catch someone else’s eye, which could lead to a job. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
AL: You also keep us apprised of upcoming new books in the children’s market and even run book giveaways. Do you seek these books out, or do the authors or publishers offer them to you?
KT: It’s a mix of both. In the beginning I asked writers if they would like to be featured, but now publishers are sending me books coming out, hoping I will feature the author and the book. It is funny how I have seen an author, illustrator, and even a publisher grow from posting this feature on the site. At first glance it might seem like it is just a chance to win a free book, but it is much more than that. I always ask the author to write up their journey with the book. Everyone loves to read what an author and/or an illustrator had to go through to get their book on a bookstore shelf and into the hands of a reader. There is a lot of knowledge being shared in those stories. Plus, we are all in this journey together, so we have support the new books coming out to keep the industry going. We want it to be strong when we submit a manuscript and have people see and buy your book when it comes out.
AL: You profile agents who are building their children’s book lists and also feature an agent of the month, who critiques several submitted first pages of manuscripts. I am in awe of your contacts.
KT: I am glad you find the info about different agents helpful. If writers and illustrators read the features, it could save them a lot of time trying to figure out who is out there and may be a good fit for them. Just remember, the industry changes frequently, everyone should check to make sure the agent hasn’t left the company or that they are still accepting queries. Last month, I had an agent who decided to close submissions and I didn’t realize this, since I had just researched her. So things can change on a dime. One day they can be working for an agency and the next they can be working for someone else or traipsing around the world with a new boyfriend. I do my best to keep up.
AL: What else would you like readers to know about you?
KT: I would like to let writers know I am currently working on organizing a Virtual Writers Retreat. I have done a full manuscript critique retreat for the last seven years. It has helped so many writers get published or opened doors for them with an agent. This COVID-19 and everyone being locked down and afraid of flying, I decided going virtually would be a good idea. If you write a novel, where would you get a chance to have an agent or editor read your full story. Plus, everyone gets assigned to a four person critique group and everyone gets a 20 page critique with one of the other agents. The retreat is open to picture book writers, too. Their cost is less. They get a total of four PB critiques and a PB critique group. Here is the link for more details.
Children’s authors and illustrators, now it’s your turn. Check out Kathy Temean’s websites. You can learn so much there! And take advantage of Kathy’s offer–she’d love to have some submissions about your work and your journey.
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I have been following Alice Hendon for years. I think I first discovered her through her old blog, The Creator’s Leaf. Then I found out she administers a Facebook group, Tangle All Around, which I often mention on ARHtistic License. Her current website is Artangleology. I love her Zentangle® work, and I’ve learned so much from her and received so much encouragement. I’m delighted that she was willing to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
by Alice Hendon
ARHtistic License: You used to work in law enforcement?
Alice Hendon: I retired from law enforcement 21 years ago. As an investigator I specialized in crimes against women and children and was a state certified expert in child sexual assault cases. During the Gainesville Student Murders I was promoted to Assistant Chief of Police.
AL: I hear you have dragons. Did you make them?
Alice Hendon and friend
AH: I am a lover/collector of dragons. We have nine dragons residing outdoors here in Maine in a special hollow. Haha! I say ‘special’ because it seems to be the perfect place. Kind of a bowl shape, hollowed out by wind and time, there are rocks rimming two sides, woods along the third side and the front side facing our house is open. Raspberries, strawberries and apple trees grow wild around the hollow. It is a great place to sit and draw, or read. I did not make any of these dragons myself. The big dragons were made by a friend in south Florida. He is a scrap metal artist. Mushu’s fringe around his face is actually bike chains. Teeth and claws were made using screws. Three of the dragons were made by a chainsaw artist living in North Carolina. He literally carved the dragons out of pine tree stumps using a small chainsaw. Two of them are connected with a bench for seating.
by Alice Hendon
AL: How did you transition from cop to artist and Certified Zentangle Teacher?
AH: I had never made any type of ‘art’ before eight years ago. After I retired, I homeschooled my daughter for twelve years and I needed something ‘new’ to occupy my time. I literally found tangling on Pinterest. Art journaling with the bright beautiful colors drew my attention and soon I was seeing line drawings in black and white that led me to Zentangle. Just weeks later I arrived in Rhode Island for training with Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. I had never taken a class and had never spoken with a CZT. I have since taught some classes, including a semester-long course for homeschool students and a few moms. I set up the Facebook page Treasured Tangles as a place to post homework patterns and for the students to be able to share their artwork. We began with eleven members/ likes. Today the page has 1,917 members/ likes. I prefer ‘teaching’ through my Facebook group Tangle All Around, which currently has almost 6,300 members.
by Alice Hendon
AL: You’ve authored six books, and collaborated on more. Tell us about each.
AH: There are currently seven books in my Artangleology! series, all available worldwide on Amazon. At the beginning I thought about the needs a new tangler has – or a person who wants to learn about tangling – and built the series around those needs.
Tangle Starts was the first book. I was one of the very first tangle artists to introduce color into tangling and heard from many others that they wanted to use color but weren’t sure where to start. With Tangle Starts I had already done the color work for them – all the pages are full color art just waiting to be tangled. Or used in any other paper crafting project.
by Alice Hendon
Tangle Starts Planner is set up to be a tangler’s bullet journal, containing all the important features bullet journalers use. In addition it has 106 tangle patterns, a quick reference section, and pages to store your favorite tangle patterns and projects.
Tangle Starts Strings is just that. A string book. It holds 366 strings all ready for you to tangle, one for every day of the year and a few extra. Includes basic tangle instructions to get a new tangler started, storage area for your favorite patterns and pages where you can create your own strings to tangle.
Tangle Starts Treasures was made to be portable and to hold step out instructions for approximately 376 tangle patterns. It includes thumbnails to record your favorite patterns at-a-glance. Treasures includes basic instructions for beginners, a collection of strings to tangle, and blank tiles for you to add your own string and tangle. There is also a section to teach you how to deconstruct your own patterns.
Tangle Starts Planner, Into the Future is the newest planner, tangle journal, datebook and organizer all in one. The theme of this book is steampunk and includes 100 tangle patterns. All the books in the Artangleology series were designed to work together or as stand alones.
Tangle All Around the World is a collaborative effort from my Facebook group Tangle All Around. Referred to by some as the tangle Bible, this book features 450+ original tangle patterns from 50 different tangle artists located all around the globe. It is a reference guide – all you need add is paper and pen. This book held the #1 spot on Amazon for thirty days when it was published.
More Tangle Starts is the most recent book in the series. It takes Tangle Starts one step further with 100 full color pages of beautiful color backgrounds for tangling, art journaling, collage art, scrapbooking, origami, card-making. Perfect for any paper-crafting project.
by Alice Hendon
AL: Wow, Alice, that’s impressive. What’s up next?
AH: I am currently working on a Bible based weekly tangle/ devotional type book.
AL: You’re an artist ambassador as well as a product reviewer. How does one that get a job as an artist ambassador or product reviewer?
AH: As an Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pen and Leda Art Supply, I receive product as it becomes available to the public. I use the product and review it on my website and on various social media platforms. Both companies provide me with product for giveaways. If you are interested in becoming an Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pen, you can follow this link for information.
I also product review for Hahnemühle Fine Art. I use the fine artist papers they provide me, then review them with links on my website and on various social media platforms. Hahnemühle provided the paper I used for artwork in the making of Tangle All Around the World and for the full color art backgrounds in More Tangle Starts.
by Alice Hendon
AL: You’ve designed lots of tangle patterns and strings. How do you come up with your ideas?
AH: I enjoy designing tangle patterns. I keep an eye out for interesting designs or details and take photos with my phone. These all go into a file which includes rug designs, architectural pieces on buildings, sidewalk cracks, floor designs, tile designs, clothing details, those are just a few. You can find inspiration for patterns all around. Sometimes a new pattern just happens when you are trying to draw a particular pattern, then make an error but keep on drawing to see what happens. Many patterns come from this happy misadventure. My pattern golden came about this way. I was working with Bales and drew it ‘wrong’ but I just kept drawing the whole thing ‘wrong’, then made a record of the steps I followed, and named it golden.
For strings, I usually just close my eyes and draw loopy lines! Hahaha! Or draw straight lines – with my eyes open – for a more structured string. No rocket science here.
AL: You make video tutorials. Do you have any tips for artist/instructors who would like to make videos to put up on YouTube?
AH: I am no expert at video tutorials. It is a work in progress. I usually have to film twice because I get stuck, or say a bad word, or something doesn’t work. Hahahaha! You probably are not going to want to use this response. Sorry. (Andrea’s note: I’m leaving this in, because I think your struggles are typical–and you do such a good job!)
AL: You moderate Tangle All Around on Facebook, preparing detailed weekly challenges and encouraging all the participants. It must be very time-consuming. How do you do all the things you do? Can you share some time-management tips for artists and teachers?
AH: I do accomplish a lot. The reason I am able to accomplish so much is simple . . . I am retired. I do not work outside the home. I already did that. Tangle All Around started small and has built into something huge. And quite frankly it ‘works’ because of the members. They take care of each other. They encourage each other. They check on each other. I really have little to do except come up with the weekly prompts and behind the scenes details. I try to comment on as many pieces of art as possible, but truly I cannot keep up. We have so many people participating in the projects and posting art. It is amazing! I am so inspired by everyone! And I am thankful that my members comment on each other’s work. And even answer questions before I see them. They really leave me little to do except come up with ideas. And I love it! My group Tangle All Around is the best group on Facebook! I make time each morning and each evening to comment on art and check posts. Early afternoon I work on my website. Late afternoon I work on art of my own. My husband and I eat meals together and we watch programs together at nighttime. We have settled into a routine, so to speak. And it works for us. Working on books gets stuffed into 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there, until I have enough to make a book happen. Then everything else stops until the book is done.
AL: What are some of your favorite tangle patterns, your own or others’?
AH: I have go-to patterns just like everyone else. I start almost every piece of art with printemps. Actually I start by drawing my chop – my signature – and building the printemps around it. That way my signature is embedded in the art piece. I also like diva dance rock n’ roll. Of my own patterns I prefer cee-a-mosa and all boxed up. I try to focus on using 3 – 4 patterns in a piece of art. Sometimes 5, but focusing on just a few at a time. There are literally so many patterns it is hard for me to focus unless I narrow it down to a few. And usually I have some Netflix playing in the background. My favorites series are Merlin, The Musketeers, and Once Upon a Time. I can mostly quote those shows, so I can listen and focus on tangling.
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Last November among the booths at the Tempe Festival of Books, some adorable puppets caught my eye.
I was hooked. I had to know more.
Vicki Riske, long time puppeteer, had recently written and illustrated a children’s book about the characters she had created as puppets many years ago. I was so impressed with Riske that I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: How long have you been a puppeteer?
Vicki Riske: I have been making puppets for about 50 years.
AL: How did you get started?
VR: I started making puppets in undergraduate school for plays.
AL: Are your audiences mostly children?
VR: Yes, most of the time my puppet audience are children, but I have also made puppets for adults, who have used them for theatre and television.
AL: Describe your puppet-making process.
If the puppet is for a play, I read the play and analyze the character that the puppet is playing. I also imagine the actions that a puppet needs to be able to do. Is it necessary for the puppet to have a mouth that actually moves? Does the puppet have to carry objects? Then I do a series of drawings, first just pencil and then I may add color to the drawings.
AL: How do you come up with their personalities?
VR: Every puppet that I make has a specific story that they are telling. The puppet characters relate to other characters in the story. They may have a specific characteristic that can dictate the design, such as Leo, my lizard. He needs to do push ups, so he needs to have joints that allow that activity. He is also a lizard, so he needs a texture consistent with ideas about lizards.
AL: Have you worked in television?
VR: Yes, I had my own TV show back in the 70s for a CBS affiliate in Fargo, ND. I created two owls, a dog and a worm for the show.
AL: And you also worked in movies?
VR: Yes, I worked as a scenic artist on commercials and movies around Arizona. I have a film credit on Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
AL: Tell us about We Are Puppeteers.
VR: We Are Puppeteers is a small company. We write books, make custom puppets, and we do puppet shows with children. The children are the puppeteers. We have puppet shows that we have written and puppets that the children use to act out the stories. We usually rehearse with the kids and then they perform for their parents or other kids. We do the shows for events such as birthday parties.
AL: Who are some puppeteers who have inspired you?
VR: Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Jim Henson, Edgar Bergen, Caroll Spinney, and many more.
AL: What do you like most about puppeteering?
VR: I like the magic around puppets. You have an inanimate object that you can bring to life to tell a story.
AL: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in making puppets and/or performing with puppets?
VR: Don’t be afraid of your own style. You maybe inspired by someone and copy for a while, but let your creativity come out.
AL: Now you’ve branched out to writing and illustrating children’s books. You’ve used the same characters as your puppets. How did you come up with the idea of The Polka Dot Tea Party?
VR: I have a granddaughter who loved tea parties. We would have one tea party after the other. She was 3 years old at the time. So she was my inspiration. I love the desert and would see shapes in nature, so I thought polka dots and tea parties was a great combination of topics.
AL: What is the hardest part of the writing process?
VR: Editing is the hardest. Once I have an idea it usually flows, but reworking the text can be a challenge.
AL: Did illustration come naturally for you? Have you always drawn, or is it a new skill for you?
VR: I have been drawing my whole life, but had never illustrated a book before.
AL: How long did it take to write and illustrate The Polka Dot Tea Party?
VR: It took about 6 months to write and illustrate the book.
AL: What advice would you give to someone who would like to become an illustrator?
VR: I would tell them to look at books that appealed to you. And daydream about your book. I find that ideas come to me when I am cleaning house.
AL: What was your publication journey like?
VR: I learned a lot about publishing a book. I think I was a bit impatient at times. The process for publishing took a long time.
AL: How did you connect with Outskirts Press?
VR: I found them on a recommendation from a friend.
AL: What will your next book be?
VR: My second book, Grandma Bibi, was just published in December 2019. It is a children’s book about shared memories and love. It tackles memory loss as a family issue and opens a dialogue for families to discuss what is happening to grandma or grandpa. I self-published this book. I found a printer in Michigan, 360 Digital Press, that has been great to work with.
AL: What do you like most about writing?
VR: Puppets need stories to tell and I enjoy writing them. I also like the fun of sharing my ideas with young people and bringing them joy.
AL: What do you like most about illustrating?
VR: Illustrating is challenging, creating an emotion with a drawing is the best. Illustrations set the tone of the story, whether it is light or serious. I make many drawings until I have the right one for a page.
It’s really hard to put Kathy Reeves in a box. She is so talented and distinguished in so many arts! I first discovered her through her blog, Sewing, Etc.and was blown away by her beautiful quilts. But she also sews garments, knits, cross stitches, and teaches piano. I’m so glad she consented to be interviewed for ARHtistic License, because I’m delighted to learn more about her.
ARHtistic License: What is your musical background? What do you do professionally?
Kathy Reeves: It’s a little complicated! Musically, I started piano lessons at age 5, and started teaching at 14, mentored by my teacher. Since 2017, I have been building my piano studio, where I teach a combination of Suzuki and traditional methods to students ranging from 4-67 years old. I also accompany, so usually do the school solo contests, recitals for the Black Hills Suzuki School, and 4-5 high school kids participating in the Concerto Competition. I have a BS in General Agriculture and an MA in Organizational Communications. I spent nearly 30 years as a Youth Development Specialist for the 4-H program.
ARHtistic License: Below is a collage of garments Kathy has sewn. (She’s got the modeling thing down, too!) Click on the smaller images to enlarge.
AL: I’m a little confused about the acronyms you use on your blog. What is SAL? What is HQAL?
KR: SAL stands for Stitch A Long, and HQAL is short for Hand Quilt A Long.
AL: I love your beautiful knitting. When did you learn to knit? I love your patterned sweaters and mittens. What do you most like to knit? It seems to me you look at patterns but freely adapt them to reflect your own creativity. Is that correct? Do you also crochet?
KR: I learned how to knit during my time as an IFYE (International 4-H Youth Exchange) in Norway. My favorite thing to knit is sweaters. I especially love the Norwegian traditional patterns, and putting a modern twist on them by changing up the colors. I am just getting to the point where I experiment with a little pattern adaptation, mostly out of necessity, but it is giving me the confidence to consider drafting my own “perfect cardigan” in the future. I can crochet marginally…I don’t enjoy it as much as knitting, but I try making a doily every 5 years or so!
AL: What are your favorite kinds of quilts to make?
KR: I prefer scrap quilts, probably because that’s all I knew growing up! Right now, sampler quilts seem to attract my attention, but there are a few patterns that I have on my someday list.
AL: What kind of sewing machine do you use for your quilts?
KR: All my sewing is done on my Necchi Omega, a Christmas gift for me about 15 years ago. It is one of the last machines to get a metal body, and it is purely functional. It has maybe 12 stitches on it, and cost about $300.
AL: Do you quilt on a sewing machine or by hand?
KR: I do both. I started Free Motion Quilting about three years ago, and have progressed to a pretty decent meander pattern. I have branched out a little, and now have a few patterns I feel pretty confident in executing. I started the HQAL to help me be accountable for working on hand quilting projects, and it has been wonderful to learn from others in the group.
AL: Do you design your own quilts or work from a pattern?
KR: I do both. If I have a specific project in mind, I will draft my own blocks. I have a variety of reference books I collected early on, filled with blocks, and of course anything traditional has been put out on the internet. Lately, I’ve been utilizing quilting projects offered by bloggers and fabric companies, just to speed the process.
AL: What is your fabric shopping strategy? Do you have a particular quilt in mind when you shop? Certain colors? Or do you just buy whatever strikes your fancy? What is your stash like?
KR: Currently, I only shop for fabric when I am working on a specific gift, such as a wedding quilt, where I am trying to choose something that will be meaningful to the couple. My mother in law brought me her stash when she realized she would not be sewing anymore, and I inherited most of my mom’s stash when she passed away. I have always saved the fabrics I sewed clothes with, as well as the scraps from past quilting projects too. My daughters often wrap up a few fat quarters at Christmas time too. Because of this, my stash is quite the mishmash of colors and eras. I am on a fabric fast until I have used up what is in my drawers, except for neutrals, which I seem to run out of regularly.
AL: Who are some designers you admire?
KR: Kim Diehl – the way she combines piecework and applique. Lisa Bonjean – her embellishing on wool. Lori Holt – I am in love with her Farm Girl Vintage stuff, though I’ve held fast and not bought anything yet. I do want that cow pattern, though.
I love old Vogue sewing patterns.
AL: You do a lot of handwork—embroidery, cross stitch, hardanger. Do you do needlepoint or crewel? If you had to pick a favorite, which would it be? Do you work from a pattern or kit or design your own?
KR: My preference in handwork is to work on evenweave fabric, so its counted cross stitch and Hardanger with an occasional embroidery project. Crewel work has never been my forte, but I did the crewel work on my bunad (the national costume of Norway) when I came back from Norway. I stitch exclusively from patterns, mostly from a cross stitching magazine I subscribed to that had amazingly intricate designs. Until I finish all the projects I want out of those, I will likely not look for any other patterns!
Kathy modeling her bunad. “Each county as its own pattern, and mine is from Nordland, where my grandmother came from.”
AL: With so many different types of crafts that you do, how do you decide what to work on?
KR: I generally have 4-5 projects going at a time: Piecing a quilt, stitching something, hand quilting, something to knit and periodically, a garment of some sort. Except for the crunch during Christmas, my goal is to keep up with whatever quilting project I am doing (usually an online block of the month or week), hand quilt one or two threads each morning, work on my stitching during a lunch break, and knit a few rows of whatever in the evenings. Being part of the SAL and HQAL groups helps keep me accountable, and has really increased my output!
AL: We creative types seem to hang around with other skilled artists. When we shop for supplies, we’re surrounded by people who love to make stuff. But the truth is, most people today don’t even know how to thread a needle. What advice would you give to parents who want to pass down a creative skill to their children?
KR: Kids are naturally curious, and when they see you doing stuff, they want to try as well. My girls “helped” me sew when they were toddlers. I put them on my lap to “sew”, and they stood on a chair watching me iron. Of course, it was more interesting if the project was for them! They both started sewing as 4-H Cloverbuds when they were 5 years old. The key was to select simple projects that were appropriate for them. The first sewing project we did was a nine patch pillow, followed by an elastic waist skirt. When they were about 8 we actually sewed a simple pattern. From there, they both experimented with cross stitch, and take on a project periodically. Having a mentor is the best thing, so whether that is you, a 4-H leader, or other trusted adult, that is the best way to pass along these skills.
AL: What is a project you’re looking forward to starting?
KR: I really want to knit the Orkney sweater designed by Marie Wallin, and I am working on how to incorporate Hardanger into my next MIWW (Make it With Wool) outfit. It may have to wait for a year or two, but I’m hoping to make it happen at some point.
AL: What else would you like readers to know about your creative work?
KR: If you want to do something, just try, and if you like it, find a mentor or a good reference book and keep at it. I had a fabulous sewing mentor for about a year, and a few wonderful hours learning how to knit, and the rest I have figured out myself. I’m no expert at any of these things, I just enjoy them.
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Jenifer Tull-Gauger and her husband, Kirk Gauger, run East Valley Martial Arts in Mesa, Arizona. Tull-Gauger has also been writing and drawing since childhood. Her most recent book, The Two True Karate Kids: A Dojo Kun Character Book on Battling Dishonesty, was released December 1, 2019. I met Jenifer through folk dancing, and reconnected with her in November at the Tempe Book Festival. I’m thrilled that she consented to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: Have you always lived in Arizona? What are the pros and cons of living in a desert area?
Jenifer Tull-Gauger: I grew up in southern California and our young family moved to Arizona over 22 years ago. Arizona has provided opportunities that California couldn’t. We love the people here, and are so happy to be here now. A huge perk is the weather most months out of the year. And for me, a huge drawback is gardening in an arid climate. I don’t like working with cactus, so I must contend with big water bills.
AL: You and your husband have been practicing karate for twenty years. How do children benefit from karate training?
JTG: Karate is great for people of all ages, but children especially stand to benefit from karate training because it helps them form values, inner strength and the knowledge of their power, in their formative years. For our children, we have seen improvements in self-confidence, self-defense, respect, and character-building in addition to the fitness it provides.
AL: I know a dojo is a karate school, but what is dojo kun?
JTG: A kun is an oath, so the dojo kun is the oath of a traditional karate school. Our Dojo Kun lists our most important rules and values that we uphold. Each student is expected to work on using them in daily life – both in and outside of our classes. For me as an instructor, I teach people how to fight or harm others for self defense, and these rules teach them how not to fight, or at least how to have a moral code for the use of force. Our Dojo Kun is the traditional one created by Shungo “Tode” Sakugawa around 200 years ago. It is translated as: 1) Strive for a good moral character. 2) Keep an honest and sincere way. 3) Cultivate perseverance or a will for striving. 4) Develop a respectful attitude. 5) Restrain my physical abilities through spiritual attainment.
AL: You’ve been drawing since you were a child. What sort of art training have you had? What advice do you have for budding artists?
JTG: I took as many art classes as I could in junior high and high school. Other than that, I have practiced a lot on my own, including learning Sumi-e, Japanese brush painting, from a book. That was fun. My advice for budding artists is to just do it! Practice with different styles and media. Sketch as much as you can (or would like to) and regularly. Youtube is also a great source for techniques, ideas and inspiration.
AL: How is illustrating a book different from drawing pictures? What did you have to keep in mind as you created your accompanying illustrations?
JTG: For me, the biggest difference (and thorn in my side) in illustrating a book is the editing process. In fine art, I create a piece and when it’s done, it’s done. In illustration, I receive feedback from my art editors and then make revisions to make sure the pictures are supporting the story I want to tell. With book illustration, there is also the use of left-to-right action and awareness of where the eye is led in order to encourage the turning of the page.
AL: Do you draw your illustrations by hand, or do you use graphic software? Tell us about your process.
JTG: I use a mostly traditional process, but with the help and support of technology. My process for the Dojo Kun Character book series is to do a rough layout sketch or book dummy, then create real-size pencil sketches. After input from my art editors, I go over the outlines in black ink. All of that is done by hand. Then I scan the line art into digital files, print it all out, and fill in the colors by hand with brush pens. After another round of editing thanks to other artists’ eyes, I’ll make additional edits. Then I layout the pictures and text in Microsoft Publisher before consideration of final adjustments. If images need more digital manipulation than Publisher allows (such as removing backgrounds or parts of pictures), I’ll use GIMP.
AL: How do you find time to write and work on illustrations?
JTG: It is tricky finding the time to do both. This tripped me up for years. Then I implemented two things that help me make this doable. One is prioritizing. I have one project at the top of my list that I work on regularly. I put most of my focus and energy into that project. (I’ll put things of secondary importance in my to-do list where I anticipate having a break in my primary project, such as when waiting on input from editors or “beta-readers.”) The second is I commit to working on my books daily, even if it’s only for a short block of time. And when my day allows, I spend more time. Using a to-do list helps. As did figuring out which one series of books I want to work on at this point and having one area of focus. It is true that my other stories, my poetry, and my personal journal writing are on the back burner as I’m focusing on my karate picture books at this time. But it’s worth it to see the progress of these Dojo Kun Character Books as they come into being.
AL: You’re a member of SCBWI and you have critique partners. How did that help you on your journey to publication?
JTG: Both of these have helped me immensely. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has helped with my professional development and with teaching me the nuts and bolts of the trade. Through them, I’ve also met people who have helped guide me on my path to publication. I have found a lot of moral support and help in both the SCBWI and my critique partners. Plus, it’s awesome and inspiring just to be around other creative types. Additionally, it is invaluable how good critique partners can help you “see” the writing and illustrations through other people’s eyes or from other perspectives.
AL: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
JTG: I’m a mix of both, and depending on the story, I may lean more toward plotting it out beforehand, or flying by the seat of my pants and making it up as I go along. I actually enjoy both. When left to my own devices, I will usually have a solid idea plotted out in my head of what I’m going to write. But I try to stay open to inspiration and go with the flow of creativity while writing. I did a longer work, a children’s chapter book for NANOWRIMO a couple years ago, and was amazed and delighted at how some parts of the story took twists and turns that I hadn’t expected when plotting it out. There were times that I was writing my characters into trouble and had no idea how they were going to get out of it.
AL: What was the most difficult part of writing your books? What is the most fun part of writing your books?
JTG: The most difficult part of writing my first book was the uncertainty of what to do with the story and when to do it. I actually had the idea and wrote the first draft years ago. After I took it to my writer’s support group for feedback, it sat, going nowhere, for years. (That is the purgatory where most of my stories and poems sit.) The most fun part of writing and illustrating my book is just overall the adventure of it all. Some of the high points of the adventure are getting lost in the creative process, and learning of new (or previously unknown) helpful resources such as the Biteable app which eases the process of book trailer creation. I enjoy meeting new people at writers’ events or even on social media. It’s fun to encourage other writers and artists to find that spark within them and follow where it leads. And I love bringing my art and writing to the table in karate training, as well as bringing the most important lessons of traditional karate out into the world to help children, even those who may not train, improve their lives for now and for their futures.
AL: What types of books do you like to read? Which authors do you admire?
JTG: I like to read all types of children’s books. It’s important to keep up with the industry. I admire Tomie dePaola for continuing to support and encourage younger writer-illustrators in the SCBWI even though he doesn’t need to. And I admire many authors I have met who have helped and encouraged me, including Pat Curren who once won a Tomie dePaola DVD on the craft of picture books and gave it to me because she writes for teens. As far as my personal reading, I’m open to trying out any book from any author, but I will put it down if it doesn’t hook me within two pages. Dean Koontz is my favorite author to read.
AL: What is your favorite book about writing?
JTG: There are so many great books about writing! I would have to say my favorite is Natalie Goldberg’ Writing Down the Bones. It contains so much great advice and sharing of knowledge and writing experience. I also really like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which inspired me to get to know her better through her writing.
AL: Your book The Can-Do Karate Kid: A Dojo Kun Character Book on Defeating Laziness & Procrastination came out in May 2019, its companion coloring book came out in November 2019, and The Two True Karate Kids: A Dojo Kun Character Book on Battling Dishonesty came out in December 2019. What’s next?
JTG: My third Dojo Kun Character Book, about wrestling with quitting, is at the top of my writing and illustrating priority list. I’m also working on a companion coloring book to go along with the second book in the series. These will be released in the first half of 2020. And I’m looking forward to my book launch party for The Two True Karate Kids on February 15th, 2020. It will include a Karate with Your Dog Class!
AL: Do you have a funny story about any of your books or about the writing process?
JTG: Maybe not really laugh-out-loud funny for most people. But I enjoy a dry sense of humor, and I find many of the “little things” in life hilarious. My picture book adventure has so many little funny things like that. Such as a five-year-old calling both the snail and slug monster in my first book “snails” (he’s from Arizona). Or his mom giving Procrastination (the snail monster) a voice, “Don’t do it now, you can do it later.” Or the response from a teen “beta reader” when she saw that I made the adult female karate teacher bald. (She was not on board with this idea.) I got to see her face as I was there in person: priceless.
AL: What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?
JTG: Hmm, I feel like I put all of these things out there in my weekly writer-illustrator and karate blogs. So this is a tricky question for me. But there is one thing that I may not get out there enough. I wish that all adults with elementary school aged kids in their lives knew I aim to make my books educational yet fun, character-building conversation starters with enough weirdness to make kids want to talk about them (and a can-do attitude, honesty, perseverance, etc.).
To learn more about Jenifer Tull-Gauger, check out her author website. And if you’ll be near Mesa, Arizona on February 15, you’re invited to the launch party for The Two True Karate Kids. Since the plot includes karate and the adoption of a dog, the book’s publication will be celebrated with a karate class that’s going to the dogs. The party will take place 9:45 a.m.—11:30 a.m. on Saturday February 15, 2020, outside East Valley Martial Arts, 1829 S. Horne, Suite 8, in Mesa. It will include book signings, a book reading, pictures with your dog and the author, and a Karate with your Dog Class. Participants in the class are invited to bring their dogs to go alongside them through a martial arts influenced obstacle course. Donations will be accepted for the Arizona Humane Society. Sounds like lots of fun, doesn’t it?
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