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Archive for the ‘stay at home dad’ Category

You read that headline right. Here in the US, National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day is May, 15th. 

cookies_monster

I’m a big fan of cookies, especially chocolate chip cookies. I spent many years working in a bakery. The 4:30 AM shift wasn’t bad when I was 19 years old. I can’t quite imagine it now. I made crosisants, breads, muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls and lots of other stuff, but my favorite item to prepare and bake were cookies. I made many a cookie in those days (usually in huge batches of 5 or 6 dozen, monster size cookies) and still do (but now in far smaller batches).

Of course there are lots of recipes online for variations of the standard chocolate chip cookie. But I am partial to the old Tollhouse one, sans the walnuts.

I created a special illustration for the day. I might make a few t-shirts too.

Oh, you’ll be hearing more about this as it apporaches!

And here is a little background on the infamous cookie from ABC news last year.

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I’ve been cleaning out my studio. And filling the recycle bin. Filling and refilling the recycle bin. Wow.

Animation timing sheets and countless reams of old drawings have been collecting dust for too long. I saved a few things and scanned a few others. I spent hours going through character designs from old animation projects, odds and ends from sketchbooks (I was keeping way too many old sketchbooks for some reason), life drawings and random pieces that were no doubt the start of something great, 18 years ago…. I pulled out a book dummy or two. But I must have thrown out at least 80 pounds of paper. It will take two or three weeks to get it all in the recycle bin.3

You can’t keep it all. You just can’t. As I finish all my work digitally now the only physically tangible aspects of a project in progress I have are sketches and roughs. These past 10 years I have held onto way too much.

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I’ll post a few scans of stuff along the way.

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I was recently asked about my ‘career’ by someone interested in writing and illustrating books.

I still have a difficult time saying this is my ‘career’. I have worked as an art director, character designer, UI designer, graphic designer, producer, product manager, creative director…the list is long. I’m not sure how good I was at any of those jobs. And I’m not sure my career path can even be called a career path. It was more off-roadin’ until I got somewhere I wanted to stay awhile. But, I  believe all these professional experiences have helped shape who I am as a writer and artist and created good work habits in me.

But about writing and/or drawing books -

It is not a job where you get promotions and yearly reviews or daily meetings.

It is not a job where you can get ahead by (saying this nicely) becoming involved in someone else’s project.

Response to your work can be fickle. No one knows what will resonate with the public at large. Though some have slightly better luck in guessing.

Working from home takes a lot of focus and I hate to say it, discipline. You must have the ability to push chores aside – or you spend your whole day cleaning and walking the dogs (and posting to your blog) and get no work done.

It is a job for those who like to spend time alone. If you need social contact you will have to cultivate that.

For me it is a job where one day I am happy with my work, the next I want to repaint everything I did.

It’s not for people who can’t take rejection. Maybe it’s just me but I spend more of my time with rejections that acceptance letters.

There is no one path to ‘get there’. And there is no cleared path to where it will take you.

Everyone who manages to be involved in it seems to have come to the work by different means. I know some people who were offered work the first time (yes, the first time!) they showed their portfolio. I know people who were rejected repeadtedly by agents and worked  years to get offered a book.

Writing a a good picture book is as much work as writing any other book. Picture books aren’t ‘easy’ because they have fewer words. The people who make it look easy are just really, really, really good at writing picture books.

It’s the best job in the world when it’s not being the worst job in the world.

But it’s not what most people think it is. And I love it.

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There are a few really good days being a full-time author/illustrator. Getting checks is nice of course. After all, the food doesn’t buy itself. But really the best days are when you get the book you worked on for a year or more for the first time.  Seeing the final proof for the first time is also a good day.

This past week I’ve been busy working on the second picture book I wrote and will illustrate. The dummy is coming together, though it’s at that point where I spend a lot of time wondering if a particular page communicates the right story beat.  I was concentrating so hard that my daughter and her friend snuck up to my studio and gave me a big “BOO! ” on Saturday. Twice to be exact. Each time  I screamed out loud. My wife heard it from the front porch. Well, it is the season for scares.

But the other cool thing this week was seeing the final digital proof of the picture book I wrote and illustrated that will be released  by Candlewick Press next Thanksgiving. The cover, the flap copy, the final art with final type…very cool to see. And I am looking forward to the first hardcopy proofs in a few months. You will hear me talking more about both books as they near release.

Now, back to work. But I better make sure my daughter isn’t sneaking up the stairs.

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My daughters drawing in chalk on the sidewalk and a camera filter make for a great image.

dl

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My wife And daughter recently took a trip leaving me at home with the dogs and time to catch-up on work and house repairs. It was a vacation that I was really looking forward to. It was the first week at home without my daughter since she was born. I’ve been a stay-at-home, work-at-home dad for almost 7 years now.

And it was a surreal week. It took me a day or so to relearn what life not associated with having a kid was like. I reverted to my preferred schedule, working late into the night. I kept busy until 3 or 4 in the morning. I’d be back up by 9 in the morning and walking the dogs without an extended discussion about why we have to walk dogs.

I had no one asking for lunch, so I often skipped lunch. I wasn’t worried about preparing dinner so I ate when I was hungry. It wasn’t a return to the schedule free days of my youth, I still had two dogs to keep happy. But I was able to work a more organic schedule that saw me writing in afternoons, dealing with emails and taxes and such in the evenings and drawing all night.

I admit feeling a bit lost without the need to pick up my daughter from school, or drive her to swimming or gymnastics or a play date. Time didn’t move in the staccato rhythms of caring for kids. It flowed and surprisingly It felt like I had many more hours in each day.

Of course I missed them, and I’m not saying it was better. But only now can I clearly see how much my life changed since my daughter. These slow changes in life, like gaining a pound or the graying of your hair, aren’t appreciably day by day. You become something different without realizing it.

I hope to combine a little more of the old me with the new me as my daughter gets into full time school. I have some learning to do. Again.

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too many books illustration. Mark Fearing

too many books illustration. Mark Fearing

Here’s an update on my book-letting. Two months ago I wrote about my need to get rid of books. That perhaps being buried alive by books in my studio isn’t the way I want to go…though honestly, it’s not a bad way all things being equal.

And now for some blog-honesty…I haven’t gotten rid of one single book.

I tried. We had visitors for Thanksgiving and I tried to talk them into taking some books with them to read on the way home. But they already had plenty of books.

It gets worse…I recently purchased three new books and my bet is the Holidays will see me get at least one or two or three or more. So I am losing the ‘war on books’. I may never move from this house. I don’t have the energy to box-up all these books…

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2012 was a big year for me professionally – if for no other reason than my graphic novel Earthling! was released by Chronicle Books. It’s a book I worked on for many years. A story that went through massive changes and a project that I am happy with and not happy with all at the same moment. I also illustrated two more picture books that will be out in 2013.Busy year. Good busy.

But 2012 was really all about Earthling!. I have worked on all sorts of projects in my life. Usually playing a bit-part or smaller in some major branded piece of entertainment. The desire to captain the ship, so to speak, speaks as much about ego I suppose as desiring a challenge. And it has been a challenge. But now Earthling! is done. Out of my head and my arm is recovering from drawing 256 or so pages in 6 months.

High-point: getting that first set of proofs from China (receiving them only a few days after I OK’d final full color digital art files in San Francisco…crazy). High-point: Seeing the real book for the first time when my author copies arrived. Seeing it on the shelf at a bookstore and library.

Low-point: being told it would get coverage in the New York Times and spending a week worried beyond belief about what they would say.

High point: having a very positive review in the NYT’s! Low-point: after the review ran in the New York Times having the paperback be out-of-stock at Amazon for 7 or 8 weeks. I’m still not clear why. But at least it’s back in stock now.

And so my professional year ends as this project that dominated my life for so long is cast aside, set sail, free to wander the winds of recycling bins and library shelves for years. I guess 2012 will always be about Earthling! for me.

If you are waiting for me to write some sort of valuable lesson about what I learned from all this I suppose I could write a platitude like: The more things change the more they stay the same. Or: Never leave an open container of cheese in your house if you have monkeys.

I might say that writing or drawing a book, creating a story and releasing it to the world is a job fraught with unexpected outcomes and revelations. Ups and downs. Disappointments and high points. It’s never quite what you expect. It’s never as bad as you think. And in the end, most of the time, you live to try it all again.

Where have I read that before? It goes something like this:  “It’s a dangerous business…going out your door. You set onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”. And I believe that the road you take in creating something offers plenty of adventure too.

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I couldn’t find our mailbox key. I looked everywhere. I spent hours running up and down, searching every corner of the house. I grew more frantic as the hours passed.

I took the garbage from the kitchen to the garage, dumped it on cardboard and dug through it. I’ve been know to accidentally toss things away when I’m in a hurry or distracted, which is most of the time. But I found no mailbox key in with the banana peels. I looked through the drawer where we keep the dog leashes used on walks. The key has landed in there a few times when I get back from walking them and jumble the extra poop-bags up with their leashes and whatever else is in my pocket. It wasn’t in there.

So, what about pants pockets? I started the day with black jeans. It was cold. But after dropping my daughter off and walking the dogs, it was warm so I switched to cut-offs. Then, mid-afternoon I had a meeting so I put on big-boy-pants. Black dress pants so I looked semi-professional. (key word being ‘semi’ professional…).

After the meeting I switched back to shorts and picked my daughter up.

Hours were passing as I ran around. My wife got home. I was still looking. Cleaning out drawers. My daughter built an entire Lego camper van or something (these aren’t the legos I had as a kid!) and I was still looking.

Looking under car seats. I started to wonder how I even go about getting a new key. Does the post office help in such cases? What if by some miracle I actually get a check this week? What if someone found the key and takes that check? (after the disappointment of stealing a check from a kids book illustrator/author sets in the thieves would have a good laugh…)

I finally sat down and zoned out and realized something funny about the good old human brain and its short-cuts. I had worn two pairs of black pants that day. Each time I went upstairs and dug through the pockets I was digging through the black jeans, which were in the laundry basket in the bedroom. I had folded the dress pants up and hung them in the closet. Each time I walked into that room my brain checked off the ‘look in the pockets of the black pants’ and I never made it into the closet.

The mail box key was in the dress pants. So much for me trying to look respectable. All it did was make a mess out of my evening.

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Yeah, summer is pretty much over. So I am be back spending time with my best friend – my computer.

I have lots to talk about and several new books that will be coming out. Of course Earthling! is out now, but for the time being it’s back to picture books for me, with two I have written and will be drawing and a few more that I will be illustrating.

The funny thing about working in books – today I am getting final art ready on a book that won’t be released until October of 2013 and I am editing a book that won’t be released until spring of 2014. And the book I am writing now…if it sells…well…Maybe it would be released in 2016?

When a book is finally released it’s like a visit from a time machine. An opportunity to see what I was writing/drawing/thinking/painting two or three years previous. It’s also a powerful testament to the passage of time. Did I write that 4 years ago, I ask myself. Is that possible? The books operate on a different timeline. They ebb and flow more closely with a geological sense of scale. Writing a book, selling it, editing it, making a dummy, generating final art, developing a cover for it…these things don’t happen in a week. Or often even in a year. The book orbits my existence. Dentist visits, family difficulties, flat tires, paying property taxes, these things fly about like gnats eating away at your awareness and vitality on an always accelerating basis. But the book plods along. Notes, corrections, edits, proofs…it’s a schedule that unifies my life now. Allows me to see through the trees to the forest beyond. I feel so lucky to be doing what I am doing it’s almost silly.

But now it’s back to work as my daughter heads back to school. The rains will be here shortly and the days will be short. Soon enough I’ll wonder where those summer days went.

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