Here’s Charlie

Twenty-fourteen is a big year here in Oil City, Pennsylvania. It was 100 years ago, just a couple of doors up from my studio address, that Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie deal with Mack Sennett. Charlie was performing at the Lyric Theater with Fred Karno’s comedy troupe and met Sennett in between acts to sign the contract. Here’s a detailed account of Charlie’s early career.

I was approached by the Friends of the Library to create a stand-alone cut-out of Charlie. They wanted him big—8 feet tall. I went over to the library to see where Charlie would be installed and discovered that there is not very much floor space but there is ample height—the main floor’s ceiling is about 16 feet high. I scrapped the drawing I’d done of Charlie standing and drew Charlie suspended, using his cane as a hook. I think this pose fits his acrobatic style.

I enlarged my drawing onto pieces of foam board. The project is 3 ply, so that I could paint front & back without it warping. His arm has a center of plywood and his cane itself is 3 pieces of plywood laminated together, since it supports the whole piece.

He is painted with acrylic in black & white, of course!


3D Henry

Look what I got in my inbox!

Mohamed from Egypt is learning 3d programs. He used my model sheet of Henry  (from Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies) to create this beautiful digital image. I love the textures of the different articles of clothing—the leather vest, the woolen shirt.


digital art created by Mohamed Eldemerdash

Thanks, Mohamed!


This appeared in Publishers’ Weekly. It’s a spot illustration from Finnegan and Fox: The Ten-Foot Cop. Tony is one of the street vendors Finnegan sees on his beat every day. Long ago when I lived in New York City I worked with a designer whose husband was in the food business. His name is Tony, too. He started his career with a lunch wagon and visited construction sites every day at lunchtime. All those construction guys came to Tony for sandwiches, chips, desserts, sodas and coffee. He worked hard and was successful enough that he eventually owned a fleet of lunch wagons. Tony kept working hard and after a little while more he was able to trade them in for his own restaurant. Isn’t that a great story?


Designing Finnegan and Fox

 Finnegan and Fox: The Ten-Foot Cop will be available February 1st! You know what that means: I’ll be showing you sketches and paintings in progress. Here are character studies for Finnegan, the police horse and Fox, his policeman.

Finnegan is a powerful 10 year old horse—younger and more muscular than the tired old rosinantes I’m so fond of drawing in other of my books. Police horses, just like policemen, wear a uniform. I had to research Finnegan’s bridle and saddle as well as the pad that goes under it. The pad is blue with the NYPD badge in the corner. Mounted cops use an English style of saddle which is smaller than the American version.

I did some sketches of Fox, the policeman, but the editors and art director weren’t happy with how he looked. He’s too comic, too silly. Fox has to look serious enough to be a cop but also friendly-looking. I had a difficult time getting this character to look just right. The editors weren’t able to tell me exactly how they’d like me to draw him. I hate to not please my clients. Felicia Macheske was my art director for this project. She and I came up with the idea to ask the editors which actor they would choose to play Fox. That was much easier! They said they’d cast Jesse Martin. Designing Fox went much more smoothly once I knew what my clients wanted.

finnegan.left finnegan.right fox.1 fox.2 newfox.body newfox.heads

The jukebox with a broken heart

In the great old mediæval fairytale, Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack steals a golden harp from the giant’s castle. Eric Kimmel‘s update, Jack and the Giant Barbecue, sets the action in west Texas and replaces the harp with a jukebox.

I have to admit she’s my favorite character in the story. This poor, neglected jukebox doesn’t have a name but Eric wrote some winning country western honky-tonk dialogue for her. She bravely offers to help Jack get his daddy’s recipe book back from the giant who cast her aside. It’s hard not to fall in love with her.

I had to design a character who would live up to all that. She had to be a Wurlitzer jukebox—colored lights and tubes to let her shine in the murk of the giant’s barbecue shack. What about eyes, mouth? At first I put 2 eyes on top of the jukebox but no good—it would be hard to make them expressive. One photo I found has a 45 rpm vinyl record centered in the arch of the incandescent tubes. I thought, maybe she could have one big eye? Her mouth would be the coin slot.

Design for Jack

Jack and the Giant Barbecue is officially in bookstores today! I had a great time designing these characters. Here’s how Jack came to be.

The first drawing I do of a character is always too rough. I draw it just to get that drawing out of the way. Neither of the figures in the first sketch is very interesting. That hat, though, with the stitching around the brim is the one I wore when I was 4 or 5.

The second sketch is more finished, but this character doesn’t inspire much interest, either. Also, he looks too much like every other kid I ever draw.

I thought I might try making Jack a little squirt, to contrast even more with the Giant. The third sketch shows a more compact Jack. I think he’s starting to develop a personality!

The next sketch shows the smaller Jack doing different things and showing some expressions. This is the character who would have enough gumption to climb Mount Pecos and take on the recipe-stealing Giant.

Here’s a sketch of Jack deciding to go after the Giant. Art Director Anahid Hamparian thought the picture told the exact same story the words do, so she nixed it. She was right. Often, getting rid of a picture makes the story move more efficiently.