Creating Pim in my makeshift Creature Shop

Someone asked me what I was going to do with the art dolls of my goblin characters, and the question caught me off guard. They couldn’t figure out what purpose they would serve for my books. Was I doing a marionette puppet show? Was I creating models for a movie? I didn’t want to tell them the truth: “I’m creating the characters from my book because that world is very important to me, and I want to see it visualized… And, because, for 25 years I’ve wanted to work in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, so I’m pretending I am.”

 

I hadn’t sculpted for four years, so I think there were multiple years of pent-up creativity and at least two years of planning and mental creation going on. I was secretly terrified that I wouldn’t be able to sculpt Pim the way I saw him in my head. But as his face began taking shape, his personality came through in the clay. I tried to give him a more relaxed expression; his mouth just opened as if he were about to speak. His big, square teeth and broad, wet nose give him a comical and friendly look.

Pim was sculpted in Fimo Soft clay (Oh, the irony — that clay is anything but soft! Still great stuff, though) on top of a wire, foil, and masking tape armature. After his sculpt was finished, he was cured in the oven and I painted him with layers of acrylic paint. His big, amber eyes were highlighted with copper and gold metallic paint to give them that magical glint.

While working on this piece, I keep admiring the INCREDIBLE illustration work of Bailey Quillin Cooper. I hope the future holds many more collaborations with her.

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This is after 3.5 hours of carefully gluing on alpaca, wool roving, and American bison hair (the whiskers). I was smart enough to think ahead and create holes to plug the whiskers in. But forcing wiry strands of glue-covered buffalo hair into the clay head was a task! I also glued a lot of alpaca hair to my fingertips in the process of furring his over-sized, tasseled ears.

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The marble resting in his paw appears in the beginning of the book and plays a part in the story’s resolution. This is the actual, antique ruby marble that inspired the book, a treasure I found it my grandparents’ basement when I was 9.

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Now that his head is finished, I’m working on sculpting his hands. One hand is posed to hold the marble, and the other is shaped so that he can “hold” your hand. He will have sewn clothing and a soft body. His arms and legs have armatures inside them that will give some pose-ability. I’ve already begun sculpting Wilden, who I’ll show you in my next post later this week.

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Goblin toes! A little monkey-ish with their long digits and prominent big toes.

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One Book After Another: David and the Phoenix

The book David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd was first published in 1957 (I have an edition from 1958). It was sort of an accidental thrift store find for me, because I always scour the kids’ book section for obscure children’s fantasy books that I’ve never heard of before. It was the illustrated dust jacket, which features the main character, that attracted me to it: David standing on the beach with the Phoenix and a gentle-faced sea-monster asleep in the sand. I was instantly convinced that this tattered copy was worth the read. I later created a sculpture based on the cover illustration, but for some reason I can only find a couple work-in-progress shots:

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Basically, the general premise of the story is that a young boy moves with his family to a new house and is instantly drawn to the mountain that looms just beyond the back fence. His longing for exploring the mountain is what leads him to encounter “the one and only, the Unique, Phoenix.” Rather than being a ferocious, mythological bird creature, the Phoenix is a highly educated and charmingly arrogant character. After being convinced to stay, and not fly away to South America in order to avoid the scientist that has been hot on his heels, the Phoenix becomes David’s friend and mentor. Together they plot how to turn the tables on the persistent scientist – who doesn’t just want to study the Phoenix but has plans to shoot him! It’s not until they purchase the most frightening wail from a former banshee (who turned to being a witch, because running a witch apothecary is where the money is at) that they succeed at derailing the scientist’s plans. If your weakness is unlikely friendships with lovable monsters, then this book’s beautiful ending might make you sniffle.

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Aside from the charming plot and illustrations, it was the conversations between the Phoenix and David that lent inspiration to my own writing. Here is where Ormondroyd’s writing truly shines. The Phoenix is an extremely witty character and is always imparting his wisdom on the impressionable young David in something close to a proper English accent. (When I read his lines, I always imagine a voice similar to Roddy McDowell’s). What the Phoenix feels is important and common knowledge always borders on the fantastic and amusing. While they are wildly different, the two characters, boy and bird, find kinship in their love for adventure and strawberry ice cream.

Go read it online through Project Gutenberg. Or, if you get lucky, you can purchase a copy at your local bookstore!

I’ll leave you with a favorite passage from the book. The Phoenix knows a thing or two about the other fantasy creatures:

“Gryffins,” explained the Phoenix, “are the small, reddish, friendly ones. Gryffons are the quick-tempered proud ones. Gryffens—ah, well, the most anyone can say for them is that they are harmless. They are very stupid.”

“I see,” said David doubtfully. “What do they look like?”

“Each looks like the others, my boy, except that some are bigger and some are smaller. But to continue: Sea Monsters, Leprechauns, Rocs, Gnomes, Elves, Basilisks, Nymphs—ah—and many others. All are of the Better Sort, since, as I have many times truly observed, one is known by the company one keeps. And your education will cost you nothing. Of course it would be agreeable if you could supply me with cookies from time to time.”

“As many as you want, Phoenix. Will we go to Africa?”

“Naturally, my boy. Your education will include—”

“And Egypt? And China? And Arabia?”

“Yes. Your education will—”

“Oh, Phoenix, Phoenix!” David jumped up and began to caper, while the Phoenix beamed. But suddenly he stopped.

“How are we going to travel, Phoenix?”

“I have wings, my boy.”

One Book After Another: The books that turned me into a writer (Starting with Mercer Mayer)

As I considered what to fill my blog with, it dawned on me that I could share with my blog readers the books that have influenced my development as a writer. As most writers will tell you, our passion to write usually began with an insatiable appetite for reading. The more books we consumed, the more stories began to form inside our own busy minds.

The obvious person for me to begin with talking about is Mercer Mayer. His work has had an impactful presence in my life from the time I was first learning to read. Just Go to Bed and I Was So Mad were Little Critter books that my parents fell back on whenever my brother and I wouldn’t go to bed or when we got into heated arguments over Legos. Characters like Little Critter and Little Monster were relatable and the books were always visually zany and entertaining. Mom would encourage us to take the time to look for the frogs and other quirky creatures always hidden within the main illustrations. There was another layer of story existing within each page.

While many of his books hold a special childhood memory for me, it’s been One Monster After Another and Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo that have most captivated my imagination. The beautiful illustrations throughout these books are the kind that you can stare at all day long; there are so many layers and different creatures, with all sorts of witty speech bubbles and hidden, inside jokes. The Trollusk and Little Laff are my favorites of all his monsters. I should also mention that, for some reason, Professor Wormbog was a stylistic influence on me as a child; his pith hat, long white mustache, and safari jacket were the epitome of cool.

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How is this NOT the epitome of cool? He has his own monster zoo, even! 

As I was writing my own book, I was trying to ensure that my words were as vivid as Mayer’s illustrations are. When I described the setting, I wanted it too be made up of the same bold lines and dark colors I saw in the Trollusk’s forest from One Monster after Another. When I imagined what the bramble goblins looked like, I fused Mercer Mayer’s monsters with Brian Froud’s goblins. They would have to be varied and unexpected; a little frightening, but entirely charming.

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Mercer Mayer’s stamp collecting Trollusk 

My Mercer Mayer book recommendations:

  • There’s a Nightmare in My Closet (1968)
  • A Special Trick (1970)
  • One Monster After Another (1974)
  • Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo (1976)
  • How the Trollusk Got His Hat (1979)
  • Just Go To Bed (1983 Little Critter book)

The Advance Reader’s Copy

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Feast your eyes on this beautiful cover art – I hope it makes you excited for the chance to read the book behind it! Bailey Quillin Cooper (check out Bailey’s Blog) did an incredible job with this advance reader’s cover. She created an eye-catching illustration that really captures the personality of three of the main characters and gives the reader a few hints about what they might encounter within the story.

On Wednesday, a big stack of these advance reader books will be showing up at my front door. I have no intention of self-publishing my book, these printed mock up books are still just rough drafts and the intention is that I can hand my test readers something physical. Already, I’ve sent digital copies to ten different readers from four different countries. Up until this point, it was only myself, the editor (Mr. Bacavis), the illustrator, the beta-reader, and a couple of close friends who had even read the book. The responses were all encouraging and it helped to propel me forward through all the editing and re-writing. A big thank you to all of them!

But let’s be real; it felt safe before, but now my creation – or “baby” – is going to be read by a wide range of different readers. It is actually very terrifying for me. I have to constantly fight the voice inside that says, “Everyone will hate it! It is so trite – and talk about a boring book… yeesh!” (My inner voice is a total jerk and an unfair critic of everything I do).

However, in spite of my complete terror and unease, this is thrilling. I am inching closer to a goal I have been passionate about since putting together my first handmade books as a kid. Creating stories has always been a natural thing for me (my mom has the file folders of childhood writing to prove it). I am a writer. Now, I’m getting the opportunity to prove it to myself and to actual readers. Let the madness begin!

The Goblins of the Bramble

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“Pim” illustrated by Bailey Quillin Cooper

Something about seeing three of my story’s main characters fully illustrated made everything about this book seem legit and authentic. I feel like now that they exist on paper no one can stop them from invading the minds of future readers.

Bailey Quillin Cooper, illustrator extraordinaire, was and is the only other person I trust to truly understand the goblins of the bramble (She is no novice to goblins and other fantasy beings).  I wanted Bailey, to take the characters in her own direction and to bring them “to life” (however cliché that may sound). She did that and so much more! I’m amazed how she took my basic sketches and scribbled notes and fused her vibrant imagination with mine. I’ve really never been more pleased and excited by a collaboration!

I think her blog post introduces the characters perfectly, so I’m sending you directly there! While you are on her blog, be sure to take the time and check out her other incredible projects! There is an entirely magical world living in Kringle Forest.

Bailey Quillin Cooper’s Illustrations for Beyond the Bramble