I have been working for a while on a manuscript that I co-authored with my brother, Josh. I've also been debating, endlessly, how the two main characters should look (see below, The Firebird). I thought originally to make them in my normal style. But that doesn't seem to fit the proper age of the character or the age group we want to hit with our story. So here is character sketch #2, with Boy and Grandpa. I lost the costumey look and kept them in modern clothing, so as not to detract from the story, though it takes place long ago, as the time period is actually quite irrelevant to the story. I wanted the boy to seem tiny but curious, a little chubby, and capable. Grandpa is also very handy and capable...he'll need to be for his big task in the story. I wanted them to appear like they are friends.
I have lived in the city for nearly the past decade in the city, spending the most years in Philadelphia when I worked on my Ph.D. in the History of Art. There was a year-long interlude in Rome, where I researched my dissertation as a Fulbright scholar. And for the last three years, New York City has been my home.
There are many things to love about the city, and when I moved to Philly, I was enamored. I remained so for my time there. Rome had its ups and downs; the downside of being a foreigner and a woman in a masculine society was strong, but it was outweighed by the beauty of the city, the hum of the vespas and the scented cigarette coffee air, the nearly constant blue sky and sun, and the hidden delights of art and thousands of years of architectural masterworks, their crumbling dust blackening my feet by the end of each day. This morning, in Queens, as the sun baked off the fog of the night before, I remembered Rome. Somehow, though, as I've marked my tenth year in concrete, I miss the black, moist earth. I miss the cool scent of green, the feel of dappled sunlight on my cheeks, and the beauty of stars in a place where the light of the city does not hide them from sight. In Queens, I can see Jupiter. I can see the moon, and a handful of other stars, but I can't see them all. I can't read their temperature by their color or make out the constellations that tell me the stories of gods of old.
There are stories of Selkies, the seal women of the northern seas, who shed their skin and can become trapped on land if their skins are hidden. They long for the water like a hunger, and if their silver seal skin is recovered, they will escape again into the water, leaving behind lovers and children. I understand how they feel.
This picture went through many concepts before settling here. I wanted to show the comfort of nature more than my longing for it. I thought a winter picture of hibernation would be best, but I did not want it to feel cold. There is something of me in the girl, a hint of myself. She reads the Brothers Grimm to a bear, a fox, and a kid, all animals that appear in those tales. The land above is cold but lit by stars. It makes me warm.
"Spring" Copyright 2013 Jessica Boehman. Colored pencil and pencil.
I made this picture for an old friend in Ohio to celebrate three generations of family. Her grandmothers and grandfathers are found in the daffodil, the iris, and the tulips; she and her husband in the robins, her three sons and her daughter in the bunnies, and her little angel in the butterfly, the old symbol of the soul. She said her grandmother loved the Spring, so I used the flowers of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, already lush and beautiful in late April, as inspiration for my picture.
Spring in New York has been a slowly unfolding delight this year, cooler than most years, and given to huge blooms and streets turned pink from fallen blossoms. I hope it will mean a cooler summer than the last.
I'm not sure the colors are quite exact; indeed, I may need professional scanners for my color work, but at this late hour, it will do.
Today is my half-birthday, a day I've always noted, for some reason or another, as a very merry unbirthday to me. And yet, today, as I get older by this silly milestone, I feel older. My shoulders hurt from drawing. My hips hurt from standing all day in unsupportive rain boots on an uneven surface at a stormy, outdoor show.
I realize it's been two months since I've posted here. Those two months have been both empty and full.
I traveled to Maryland to see my family for Easter, bringing my husband and my dog with me. I had spent the last several months drawing nearly non-stop, except for class prep, grading, and work on an invited lecture I had at Middlebury College in Vermont. More on that later. I was tired as I reached my weird Spring Break that came three weeks into my semester. I attended my second SCBWI conference in Maryland, and left feeling really inspired. I had learned a lot, had met some great people, had done some good work on the manuscript I am writing with my brother, and had had a tough but good critique with a Caldecott medal winner. And I stopped drawing.
My visit a week later to Middlebury was wonderful. I was treated like a serious professional and an intellectual for the first time in four years. It was like balm on a wounded spirit. No longer was I merely an adjunct. I was an expert in my field again. The town was beautiful, the waterfall, the mountains and the lake restorative. And I still did not draw.
I returned to NYC. I began to teach again. I worked on my shop, I prepped for shows, I shipped orders. And I still did not draw, even in the face of a commission.
Little doodles were hard won, not from my mind, which felt fertile, but from my hand, which was spent. I deduced that my artist's block, therefore, was located somewhere in my arm.
There are many reasons I stopped drawing. I was tired. I was unsure after my critique. There was some grief, as well, that had to work its way out of my body. I had to feel confident again.
Through sheer force of will I dissolved that blockage in my arm, and I made myself draw again. Here's my work-in-progress, for a friend. More on that, soon. And hopefully...more, much more. A mountain full of more.
Hans-My-Hedgehog Illustrations is the name of Jessica Boehman's blog and illustration shop. It is named after her favorite fairy tale about a hedgehog boy who becomes king of the forest. All other pages redirect to: