Saturday, January 28, 2012

She Sure is {Sketchy} - Splish Splash

I stood there in the snow, the sand at my back and grinned. 
I take a huge stock in Birthday month. Birthday month is nothing to scoff at. On the last day of that birthday year that I get to spend as the age I am, I sketch like a madwoman and with real intent, my goal to freeze that day in time with a pencil. 
This year, I had to decide, what was I to do with this precious window of time?? It needed to be perfect. So of course in the dead of winter, I boarded the F train and made my way down to Coney Island, USA.  In the solitude and quiet of winter this part of Brooklyn is a spiritual experience of sorts.  
Friends offered to slough the day off of their job-job with me, but I declined. I wanted to commune in the best way I know how, just me, at the aquarium with my sketchbook.
This perfectly perfect day gave me 3 wishes that I have never had filled
in ways each wish was so wonderful that I didn't even know I had it until its criteria had been met.

#1) See an otter bang open a shell. I know we see this on National Geographic DVDs that we all watch religiously....anybody? anybody?  There's no way we get to see this stuff in real life. I was standing there, sketching this guy when a gigantic shell floated down from the aquarium feeding gods above. His delight when he caught it with his little paws was that of a boy on Christmas morning. He immediately went to work slamming it against the glass between me the two of us. He'd turn in spirals and then bang it against the nearest rock before stuffing it in his cheeks to gnaw at it. I was so overcome I barely had time to whip out my pastels. I got a few great gestures in. These two were my fave.
#2) See Sea Horses that are happy and not stoic and creepy in that 'pet store' way. I love sea horses, but somehow they always look so sad. The seahorses at the aquarium were CRAZY. When they are properly cared for sea horses are animated, they're silly, they're goofy centers of attention.
I had a long talk with a marine biologist while I was there, she was in charge of counting babies and making sure everybody got fed. How lucky to be there for feeding time! "Hey, I'm a children's book illustrator, what really important things do you know about sea horses from working here?"
-- "Oh they're the best thing in the ocean but they're dumb as hell."
The quotable biologist hipster (who I am currently designing a tattoo for) let me know that if I was doing a book on seahorses, they needed to look stupid, but lovable. I tried my best.

#3) Change an opinion I've had since childhood. I'm just going to say it. I've never been a fan of seals. Shocking, right? I've been called out on this before, so I'm used to the persecution that comes with abstaining from public mass hysteria for this particular water beast. 

Out in the cold for so long, I forgot all about the time. No one was really at the aquarium on a snowing 18 degree day, soooo no one came to kick me out.  I found myself there way past closing time. See? I told you, this was a perfect day. I was cornered in a segment that houses seals and not much else. When I least expected it, that's where I fell in love. This particular seal takes the prize for the most human behavior I've ever seen in an animal. It was a birthday miracle come true.
Wet and scruffy around the ears, he looked like a teenager dead set on growing his hair out. It stuck out in strange directions all over his head. I could imagine him running pomade through it while his mother scoffed at his vanity. He was perched on a rock overlooking the water.

When I was in the sixth grade we went on a family vacation to Las Vegas. It was there that my kid brother was formally introduced to two things, swimming pools without closing times, and the indomitable all-you-can-eat-buffet. Two days in and about 10 hours behind his normal sleeping schedule, full of everything he could eat in one setting I thrilled to realize he was falling asleep in his heaping bowl of ice cream. Having been allowed a place where there were no limits, he had become a lost boy. He snored into his strawberry with sprinkles, and to this day, I remind him of it when we are on a great vacation or when he's doing something as simple as splitting an ice cream sandwich.

So there he was. This seal was my kid brother, three sheets to the wind with a tummy full of rocky road. He was the kid in class who is trying with all his might to stay awake. I laughed and laughed all alone in the snow and the cold sketching to my hearts delight until I couldn't feel my fingers.
You know how you're next to the guy on the train who is drifting off against his will? That's this guy. He'd doze off, snout closer and closer to his chest until SNAP! He'd jerk his head up. "I'm awake! I'm awake, guys!" At one magical moment he fell SMACK! in to the water. The panic in his face when he jumped up and looked around was the same as a five year old who falls out of bed. "What just happened!?!?!" He calmed down, curled up in a fetal position in with his flippers interlocked, too exhausted to get up out of the water where he went right back in to his "stay awake! stay awake!" routine. Every once in a while he'd raise one arm high in to the air, the better to scratch his nose with.
It was the biggest delight in all my aquarium years, and  you know that's saying a lot. Happy weekend! I'm off to fantasize with people like me at this year's annual Society of Children's book Writers and Illustrators.
This month just keeps on giving! I told you birthday month was serious.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

She Sure is {Classy} - Happy Birthday Nails

The nice part of living in NYC is the stuff that is just par for the course.
You have a birthday, you get your nails did.


That's how we roll.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

She Sure is {Sketchy} - Not Dragons, Dinos

It's almost 3AM, which always seems like the best time for my concept sketches to get me out of bed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

She Sure is {Sketchy} - Lana Jane and the Dragons

In October I embraced my birthright and returned to the shores of Oahu for the best vacation of any one's life. Seriously, Jasmin couldn't have been happier riding Aladdin's carpet.... um.. that sentence is more awkward than I intended... than I was towel lounging on North Shore sand.

One of the sweet parts of this vacation was of course the fact that we stayed at a house any bedazzled nail flaunting reality star with a poof on her head would have cut you to bunk at.  Another sweet thing was I was formally introduced to Miss Lana Jane. Notice the artful bend of that wrist.

This kid always touches paper like she's got two turn tables and a microphone. Naturally, I loved her from the start.  During my ten days of "no work no work no work" I was slowly tricked in to a relationship with one of the most meticulous art directors of my life.

On this, the first day of Dragons, and of course, as this year's wax throwing has foretold, definitely not the last day of Dragons, I give you our collective works of fiction, as dictated to me by an ever tanner toe-headed task master in size three shoes.
As I draw Lana perches on the nearest higher plane. "Hmm, Jack is goofy, Amber, his face should be silly."  "Oh and he likes to read, but his eyes get tired because he likes the dark too. He's going to need glasses"
 "Here Amber, draw him like this! Pay attention to the spikes, k? That's his name, so they're important."
Lana would tear out of the house and then return five minutes later.
"Oh, Amber, Spike is going to need some flip flops, because it's really hot outside. My feet got burned."
Lana was in charge of connecting the feathers on Dazzle's wings, she's an angel, and drawing the eggs that each Dragon came from. Dazzle's beginning isn't speckled as much as striped.
I woke up one morning to the wind breezing across the palms, the sun glinting on the sea and this particular drawing with x' on the 'wing-ears'. I easily picture Lana knees up, my sketches in hand going over them with the attention of the Devil who wore Prada.
As the days progressed we'd do a sketch and she'd start giving me character traits to keep in mind. Lana hand drew each of these scales in shorthand on Hawk's shiny black hide.
I've saved my favorite for last. This was one of the sketches we did on the last full day in paradise. I rationed sketches as it became clear that if I did not we were going to have trouble in... well you get the picture. I'd done this one and then let Lana know I'd color these and make them more artsy in New York. I opened my suitcase when I got home to Brooklyn to find this right on top.
"Smokey is not part of the family." Important, details -- That is the mark of a true director.
Happy Chinese New Year....
Wish for Dragons, and sit tight!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

She Sure is {Reminiscing} : My 20s - A Reverse Bucket List

On this, my last day of my 20s, I grab a sketchbook and skirt out the door. It's a holiday for one. Last night I grabbed a pen and started this New York Minute style Reverse Bucket List. It's been a good decade.

I've learned a lot. I've done a lot. I'm so thankful. So crazily, giddily wildly thankful. On the eve of Thirty, and in no particular order I give you my personal highlight reel.

  • Spend a summer sharing a two person "just for art" studio that kisses a Great Lake and looks out on the water. (never get over it.

  • Give Kevin Bacon a one-on-one tour of a gallery (ONE degree people)

  • Teach oil painting to high school students for a summer.

  • Spend an entire week sitting on your A-- in a Lazy Boy recliner (Hellllllllo Montana)

  • Read "The Client" in its entirety to an illiterate basketball team on a Greyhound Bus

  • Make friends that feel like family.

  • Learn how to dig for and shuck an oyster. Find it disgusting. I recommend doing it in Montauk.

  • Fall in love with Butte, Montana.

  • Dress Up Every Single Halloween

  • Go to Montreal for a Haircut

  • Help Plan a Film Festival

  • Sing your Heart Out with a Girl You Adore and All of Brooklyn at a Sound of Music Sing-A-Long

  • Smoke a Cigar at a Gentleman's Club (like a boss)

  • Throw Theme Parties

  • Nerd Out

  • Befriend a real and true Coney Island Freak
    -- Stephanie, my favorite life drawing model of all time and one hell of a contortionist. 

  • Judge a Dog Competition

  • Be Part of a Studio Audience - as often as possible

  • Work in a library

  • Work a job where 'bloomers' are part of the uniform

  • Work a job where you're given a clothing allowance

  • Work a job where you're specifically asked to dress down. (Um... Can You Wear Jeans?)

  • Boycott something. Go big.

  • Use a broker.

  • Get a nickname (a life long ambition, I assure you)

  • Love your roommates (except for Gaustass, He can Suck it)

  • Stage murder scenes with them.

  • Get Snowed In for three days with the favorites (Do Nothing but play board games and eat cheese)

  • Get crazy dressed up with your best male friend and go real estate shopping for a day

  • Obsess about the townhouse on the Brooklyn Promenade that you pretend to be on the fence about. Scheme how you can afford a 7K a month rent. Say things like, "Well, it does have three fire places."

  • Befriend a crazy lady

  • Find that the crazy lady is in fact just eccentric.When she says "Salvador Dali would have LOVED you, dahling" That it is possibly true since she was his muse.

  • Attend all her Gallery Shows where she allows you to "walk on her red carpet" and introduces you to men by saying "Amber, this is Ralph, I'd like you to go home with him tonight!"

  • Race to the Top of the Statue of Liberty's Crown

  • Have a 75 Year Old Italian Woman Teach You How to Make Ravioli from Scratch

  • Play Croquet on the Competitive Circuit (That's what Manhattan is for, pets)

  • Take a Day in the Life of a Museum Curator (back rooms of the Met)

  • Get a Dirty Look from a Museum Curator When You Cannot Stop Humming The GhostBusters2 Soundtrack. Die.

  • Spend Ten Years Following a Singer who Refuses to Sell-Out

  • Have Her Just Randomly Walk Up to You and Hug You at a Show and Whisper,
    --GOD! THANK YOU FOR STILL COMING! in your ear.

  • Feel ridiculously good about that moment.

  • Wear Red  Jeans (at the bride's request) as a bridesmaid in a wedding

  • Go broke at least 4x to get to a concert.

  • Live in an apartment with a spiral staircase

  • Attend the first NYC concerts for people that go on to be famous and win Grammys.

  • Watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade Live, but indoors

  • Watch fireworks from a cruise ship on the Forth of July with your kid sister

  • Swim in a pool of chocolate liquor

  • Spend the night in the bat cave at the Bronx Zoo.

  • Swear off milk chocolate... once you go dark....

  • Learn how to make chocolate at Jaques Torres.

  • Date a lawyer.

  • Date a bartender.

  • Make sure bartender becomes a sommelier. 

  • Date a Restaurateur. Food will never be the same afterwards.

  • Date a CPA (just not in April, or for sure in April -- Depending on What You're Going For)

  • Date a single father.

  • Date a stranger you meet on a train.

  • Date a psychologist. (This makes everything better.)

  • Swear off dating.

  • Date a doctor you meet in the ER

  • Date a med student. (Drop that like it's hot)

  • Date a blacksmith. (Thank you, universe.)

  • Date a clown (because the Universe takes back what it gives).

  • Date a poor penniless writer (never get over it).

  • Find a go-to vacation. (Thanks to Rachel and Dave, who let the Duchess and I crash their babymoon.)

  • Learn a Museum's Collection Backward and Forward
    -- I can give you a five page report on just about anything at the Frick

  • Attempt learning Italian

  • Try it again

  • Try it a third time - find it's this time that's the charm

  • Sneak on to a Movie Set

  • Walk barefoot in Central Park

  • Live Somewhere You Love Like Walden Must Have Loved the Pond

  • Live Somewhere you Hate (if you're in the market, may I suggest Greenpoint?)

  • Get Good Stories

  • Give your Compliments to the Chef

  • Doorbell Ditch Members of Fashion TV

  • Roll Down a Gigantic Hill in Forte Green

  • Kiss in the Rain

  • Walk from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to Clinton Hill

    --Walk it in Heels
    --During a Blackout

  • Lose your Gallbladder (Good Riddance)

  • Finish  College

  • Make friends with a celebrity... Thank you, Gabriel Byrne.

  • Take a tour of Sesame Street, with Big Bird

  • Meet a Girl who Changes Your Life (when she's 7)

  • Learn how to make a horseshoe like no'body's business

  • Animate a haul of educational vignettes staring a robot.

  • Own an animal that belongs on a farm

  • Go abroad

  • Take Mass at Westminster Abbey

  • Model for a Life Drawing Class

  • See the Very Last Night of a Long Running Tony Award Winning Broadway Play
    --(I am still in awe of Brian Stokes Mitchell)

  • Help a bunch of kids open a fire hydrant

  • Dance in an Open Fire Hydrant

  • Perfect your Crepes Recipe/Skillz

  • Free Style Rap on Stage in front of a Huge Audience - (Some of these happened when I was 22 obs.)

  • Volunteer

  • Work a Hotline

  • Stay Up Too Late -- (Every Single Night of your 20s)

  • Dance in Bubbles at a Night Club (Which is why I came to NYC in the first place...)

  • Dance in the Middle of the Street on a Double Date at 4 in the morning with your Best Friend...
    --While it snows

  • Eat Yourself Sick with your bestie as you devour 8 kinds of cheeses and two loaves of bread in a four am obsession to discover the very best possible Grilled Cheese (and as a result) best meal possible. Toss up between Havarti on Rosemary French Toast, or ....  you call it

  • Own a Snuggie

  • Wear a Snuggie on the F train

  • Wear a Snuggie in a Bar

  • Wear a Snuggie on Broadway etc. etc. You get the idea.

  • Experience a National Tragedy
    -- Stand at its threshold and feel yourself change

  • Fall in love for the second time...

  • Do it again......

  • How about a once more for good measure?

  • Ride across the Brooklyn Bridge on the Back of a Motorcycle

  • Attend a real Hamptons pool party.

  • Write as a character witness in a Federal Trial

  • Yell at a Mo-Fo cab driver (x 20)

  • On an impulse, dye your hair. Leave it like that for the rest of your life.

  • Be part of a small and intimate 5 person design team.

  • Get nominated for a design Emmy with those fools ;) 

  • Learn your way around a Forox.

  • Be so Uninhibited that all the Baldwin Brothers Gawk at You as You Make-Out on a Park Bench.

  • Learn Some 'effing Manners 

  • Make Friends Belle-style with all the Perveyors of Fine Goods in your Little Town. Know their first names.

  • Pull your BFF Roomie off a Pool Table (that's no place for dancing)

  • Become a Health Coach

  • Design clothes that you see people wearing on the streets of NYC

  • Freak-Out and Chase them with a Camera 

  • Get Pulled on Stage at a Death Metal Concert

  • Watch Meryl Streep as she steps from behind stage to on stage (pure magic, people).

  • Give Directions to the UN to Goran Persson's driver

  • Tell Your Favorite Story to tell at the Moth's Outtakes Stage

  • Sprint Across a Battlefield (well a Historic Battlefield)

  • Stuff Your Fist in Your Mouth to Keep from Laughing in a Packed Audience at the Worst Play to Ever Grace a Stage

  • Fail

  • Get Kicked Out of the Theater

  • Feel Mixed Guilt/Vindication when the Play Closes a Week Later

  • Ice Skate

  • Let Your exBoyfriend's Best Friend Kiss You

  • --you might not regret it
  • Write a Song in an Elevator with your Best Friend. It's OK if it takes hours. You'll make new friends.

  • Get Your Heart Broken in Dramatic Lighting, 4am under a Street lamp is good for this Scene.

  • Dye an Old Woman's Hair Hott Pink in her Hospital Bed

  • Do Work That Makes You Brim Over with Happiness and Pride

  • Draw Nearly Every Day, afterall, your life is beautiful

  • Fill 67 Sketchbooks (This next decade's got a lot of paper to fill)

  • Travel to Tropical Locations like it's Just Part of your Every Day (The Duchess is my Go-To Girl Here)

  • Have a Bartender Make You an "Amberlina" a Signature Drink You Can Actually Order at Gramercy --(well on nights when Kavin is working) -- Shirley Temple don't got nothing on this (which is a lie)

  • Ride a Bike on the Roof of a Grocery Store

  • Start Your Own Company 

  • Get a Ride in a Police Car

  • Keep in Touch

  • Find a Mentor

  • Make Her Be Your BFF

  • Play on Playground Equipment (the more dangerous the better)

  • Fly Half Way Across the Country to Meet Someone Who's Flown Half Way too...
    because what happens in Vegas....

  • Ride a Pop Culture Wave 

  • Catch Movies on their Release Day at Midnight

  • Make t-shirts to Commemorate these Occasions 

  • Forgive Someone that No One Else Forgives

  • Stand Up for Them

  • Commune with Nature in a Fairy Dust Moment on Fire Island with the World's two Coolest Girls

  • Call in sick to finish Reading a book. "I can't sleep. I can't eat." Valid.

  • Meet Judy Bloom (gush yourself in to a coma)

  • Share Lunch with Jane Yolan

  • Be Friendsies with Kevin Henkes

  • Own an Original Rosemary Wells

  • Get Kissed on the Cheek by Jeff Smith

  • Sit Cross-legged on a Roof and talk with someone until the Sun Comes Up

  • Kick a Brooklyn Kid's A in Jump Rope

  • Read Every Book on this List:

  • Make it a Competition with a Hottie

  • Give Up when You Get to War and Peace. 

  • "Cheat" and let him read it to you in Russian

  • Work in a building that holds 15 Organs - the kind with pipes.

  • Work in a building that contains a room that's an exact replica of the Titanic's Ballroom.

  • Flip a coin to make every decision for an entire day
    -- You'll End Up at Storm King

  • See the Whirling Dervishes Whirl

  • Make it Through Ten Years in NYC without a Tattoo

  • On an Impulse Go to Philadelphia with Some New Girls You Just Met

  • Have them Turn Out to Be Your Life-Long Friends

  • Stand beside the Double Sided Glass and Pick a Guy out of a Police Line
    --(I was thrilled to know this was a real thing)

  • Start a Blog!

    Best of a Decade
    Best Vacation: October 2011's Seattle/Hawaii Extravaganza There were Lanterns and Mudslides and Fresh Flowers and Mai Tais and Long Lazy Days. Hands down. Best Vacation Ever.

    Best Day Trip:
    1.Princeton in 2002 with Angela, Grammy was in Fine Form and We Stayed Up All Night Listening to Records and Writing Music
    2. Fort Tyron Park with the Ludlows - the Cloisters with this crew was a complete surprise and a total blast... from the past
    3. Connecticut for a Long weekend -- I got on a train and got a hotel.

  • Best Books:
    1.The Hunger Games,
    2. 100 Years of Solitude
    3. The Alchemist
    4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
    5. The Song of Achilles

    Best Shows
    2011  - Amon Amrath at Best Buy Theater (totally unexpected, wildly fun)
    2011 - Melanie at BBKing
    2010  - Esperanza Spalding at Summer Stage
    2008 - Matchbox 20 at MSG
    2006 - Ani Di Franco at Carnige Hall
    2005 - Eminem at MSG (possibly the best show of my life)
    2004- Patti Smith at the Bowery Ballroom
    2004 - Prince at MSG
    2003 - Five Iron Frenzy in Grove City, PA
    2003 - The White Stripes at the Aragon Ballroom -- blew my mind
    2002 - Bob Dylan at MSG

    Best Thing to Do: Go to Accupuncture, Coney Island, the Bowery Electric or ANY Beach
    Best Place to Eat: Benchmark/ Joya/ China Grill/ Gramercy Tavern/ The Red Hook Ballparks/ Stacy Giauque's Kitchen
    Best Kisses: 1.La Brea Tar Pits - I laughed so hard I almost puked but instead made-out
    2.During a Futurama marathon here at the Penthouse at 302 Court
    3.The High-line
    Best Memories
    2011 - Two Words. Royal. Wedding.
    2011 - Toys R Us and FAO Shwartz enter a bidding war over my art.
    2010 - Jen Mo hosted me and Ashley for Christmas, and gifted us with automatic soap dispensers. Ashley's reaction was maybe my favorite memory of that year.
    2008 Olympics - In which I took time off from work and kept the cable running non-stop. People dropped by at their leisure and we ate our weight in Chinese Food for weeks. There was a particular lovely moment where every guy in the room ran to get some dinner plates, because no way you'd really want dishes for hands. Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps.
    Every "Normal Day" I get to wake up in my beautiful apartment, roll out of bed and explore my Beautiful Brooklyn
    2007 Thanksgiving Day in London in which we were so baller we bought Turkey at Herrods

    2007 - The Day Garrett and Scott Put the AC in.
    2006 - In the Fall I wandered up to a woman coming out of the cutest little carriage house on that street that runs along Rendezvous Park. I had the weirdest feeling that I should talk to her about my total lack of housing situation. I'd been looking at places for two months and was on the brink of the kind of nervous break down only a New Yorker without an apartment can understand. I had actually flipped out at a homeless man earlier that week. ("YEAH?? I don't have anywhere to live EITHER!") I remember saying "Those houses are so cool and kitchy, do you know who I could talk to about renting one?" She said, "No, but I'm actually a broker... and there's this adorable place I keep thinking is too special for just anyone." There were 13 people looking at it the night we came to see it. Maria's Mother, who owned it at the time, pinched both my cheeks and said "Oh Bella, so beautiful! No gatto??" When I shook my head she hugged me and said "OK. Everybody. You. Leave!" It's the only perfect English I have ever heard her speak. That is how I came to find the Penthouse at 302 Court.  Every moment since has been magic.

    Things I Didn't Have in my Teens but that I Would Now Rescue in a Fire:
    2011 -
    The year I finally got my Cintiq, which I thought I'd stop dreaming of once I actually bought it. That is not the case.
    2011 - The Duchess bestowed me with a framed aireal shot of Coney Island. My eyes fell out of my head.

    2011 - Rachel Micheal gifted me an amazing set of drinking glasses. I cannot even describe them, but here's 1000 words.

    2010 - Brittany (of grief and high-delight) bestowed this cookbook upon me. I remember looking down at my feet and seeing that my socks had been war(k)nocked off.

    - Norton Juster signed a copy of The Dot and the Line for me. It's getting pryed out of my cold dead hands.
    - Keith gave me this rose wood sand turner, because it "is your favorite color, and it will remind you of home, and it is animated, it makes shapes you can use for scribble drawing". It remains my favorite thing

    2007 - My mom flew to NYC and painted and pimped my office, where I have had countless days of happy living ever since. I'd save the cork board in there. It is the rocking-ist.
    2007 - My parents shocked and awed me by sending me a pair of custom earrings (my favorite piece of jewelry) before my first major trade show. These babies are always along for any major life event, and they'd be one of the first things I'd grab.

    I'm reading "Love is a Mixed Tape". I dug out all the tapes I'd been given over the last ten years. (Which is where the idea for this post originated)

    Best Mixed Tape: I give you Todd Rawson age 23:

    Best Lessons Learned:
    What Goes Around Comes Around
    Ben Folds is just another Human Being
    If You're Not Enjoying Something, Stop Doing It
    Send Snail Mail
    Eat Six Small Meals a Day
    Hawaiian Time is Annoying
    and most importantly:

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my twenties.
    I'm off to live this last day of it, as wild and as free as the day I pulled up to NYC's shore.

    Have a day. Make it Good.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    She Sure is {Serious}

    I spend more than eight hours a day with my co-workers at job-job. Since they're all the creative type and well read to boot, the discussion is pretty good. Today I started illustrating bits of it on my little break.


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