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.

1 comment:

White said...

Beautiful sketches! I was at the SCBWI conference too!

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