Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | art

With My Hands

Some­times, a book comes across my desk that sparkles like a gem, attract­ing my atten­tion, insist­ing that I stop what I’m doing and read it. This hap­pened when With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things arrived last week. I thought I’d take a peek. Next thing you know, I was clos­ing the last page of the book, sigh­ing with con­tent­ment. And then I knew I had to read the book all over again.

I’ve been inter­est­ed in mak­ing things since I can first remem­ber. Whether I was cre­at­ing a peg­board town with my Playskool set or help­ing my grand­moth­er make pie crust or giv­ing my grand­fa­ther a hand in his shop, or sewing small items to dec­o­rate my Bar­bie doll house … I still feel best when my hands, mind, and heart are busy. When cre­ativ­i­ty is awake and sat­is­fied.

This book will serve as inspi­ra­tion, recog­ni­tion, and encour­age­ment. It will awak­en a dor­mant mak­er and help a per­sis­tent mak­er sit up and feel good about what they do.

VanDerwater’s poet­ry is under­stand­able. It reads out loud well. It is often brief. Her word choice is pal­pa­ble … I find myself cheer­ing her selec­tions.

The illus­tra­tions by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er are bril­liant. From the first spread, “Mak­er,” with the art based on fin­ger­prints (I can do that!) and a hill­side of clover, to the last spread “Shad­ow Show,” with its exam­ple of a shad­ow pup­pet that echoes spi­rals, the inspi­ra­tion for art-mak­ing is full of detail and sub­tle ideas to launch your own work. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy those spreads where two dis­parate poems are unit­ed by the illus­tra­tions. That pro­vides inspi­ra­tion, too!

My excite­ment lev­el after read­ing this book was high. Much like the Olympics cre­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties in young minds, this book encour­ages the can-do spir­it.

Poet­ry? Give the dif­fer­ent forms a try. Craft with words. Origa­mi? Leaf pic­tures? Mak­ing a piña­ta? Tie-dying? Soap carv­ing? The sub­tle humor in VanDerwater’s poet­ry and the John­son Fanch­ers’ art keeps read­ers’ spir­its high.


I cut a para­chute from plas­tic
tied my guy on with elas­tic
threw him from a win­dow (dras­tic)
watched him drift to earth—fantastic!”

The Army Guy tied to the plas­tic para­chute, drift­ing down to the boat fea­tured in the next poem … this is the kind of poet­ry every­one can enjoy, the inspi­ra­tion every­one needs.

With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things
writ­ten by Amy Lud­wig Van­Der­wa­ter
illus­trat­ed by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er
Clar­i­on Books, March 27, 2018


The Secret Kingdom

The Secret KingdomThis book is irre­sistible. For all kinds of rea­sons.

Remem­ber when you were a kid, or maybe you do this now, how you’d take what­ev­er was at hand and cre­ate a house, a camp, an entire set­ting for you to play in? Where you could act out your sto­ries? Did you do this with found items from nature? Or things your fam­i­ly was throw­ing away? Did you scoop up cool fab­ric or papers to use when you need­ed them? Then this book is for you.

The author and illus­tra­tor tell the sto­ry of Nek Chand. It begins this way:

On the con­ti­nent of Asia, near the mighty Himalayas, in the Pun­jab region of long ago, sat the tiny vil­lage of Berian Kalan, the place Nek Chand Sai­ni called home.”

Claire A. Nevola, who is, I con­fess, one of my favorite illus­tra­tors because she knows how impor­tant the details are and seems to read my mind about what I need to know, begins with this illus­tra­tion.

from The Secret Kingdom, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

sculp­ture by Bri­an Mar­shall

As you can see on the cov­er of the book, there are bro­ken pots and rib­bons and warped bicy­cle wheels, just the sort of thing you and I might have col­lect­ed. Per­haps you still do. (Anoth­er con­fes­sion, I have a Pin­ter­est board where I keep exam­ples of char­ac­ters made from Found Objects, so col­lect­ing bits and scraps is always on my mind. Here’s one of the char­ac­ters I find so charm­ing.)

Barb Rosen­stock tells the sto­ry. Nek Chand is born a sto­ry­teller. He notices the peo­ple and the world around him. He appre­ci­ates his vil­lage and the peo­ple, the com­mu­ni­ty, with whom he lives. Until the Pun­jab is split into two coun­tries, Pak­istan and India. Nek’s vil­lage is in Pak­istan, which is now Mus­lim. His fam­i­ly is Hin­du. “The Sai­ni fam­i­ly fled at night, walk­ing for twen­ty-four days across the new bor­der into India. Nek car­ried only vil­lage sto­ries in his bro­ken heart.” 

We have seen cur­rent pho­tos. The night­ly news tells us sto­ries (not enough of them) of the peo­ple who are leav­ing their much-loved homes. The Secret King­dom takes place in 1947. It could be tak­ing place today.

What is most impor­tant about this book is that it the true sto­ry of what one man does to wrap him­self in the mem­o­ries of home. With much effort, Nek finds a spot in the jun­gle near his new town. Patient­ly, he begins to clear a space, col­lect dis­card­ed trea­sures and boul­ders from riverbeds, and “half-dead plants from the city dump.” He began to tell his sto­ries by cre­at­ing art, a sanc­tu­ary, a place he could feel at home. 

He’s built all this on gov­ern­ment land. After many years, he is dis­cov­ered, and the gov­ern­ment intends to demol­ish all of his art­work. 

Every­one in Chandi­garh learned his secret. Offi­cials were out­raged. Nek Chand Sai­ni should lose his job!

His King­dom would be destroyed.

Until the peo­ple of Chandi­garh came.”

That stopped my breath­ing. It was the peo­ple who rec­og­nized imme­di­ate­ly how impor­tant this secret king­dom of Nek Chand’s tru­ly was. And it was the peo­ple who worked to save it. 

At the end of the sto­ry, there is a tru­ly appro­pri­ate fold-out sec­tion with pho­tographs that will have you say­ing, “Yes! I under­stand why this had to be saved. I would have worked with the com­mu­ni­ty to do this.”

Nek Chand (pho­to: Gilles Prob­st, Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

A biog­ra­phy of Nek Chand is in the Author’s Note, help­ing the read­er under­stand how impor­tant and vital this man was. He died at age 90 in 2015. His art remains.

This is the sto­ry of what one per­son can do to pre­serve our sto­ries. It is also the sto­ry of how a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple can pro­tect, defend, and pre­serve what is tru­ly impor­tant to them. It is an irre­sistible true sto­ry.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for school and home.

The Secret King­dom: Nek Chand, a Chang­ing India, and a Hid­den World of Art
writ­ten by Barb Rosen­stock
illus­trat­ed  by Claire A. Nivola
pub­lished by Can­dlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978−0−7636−7475−5


Welcome to Roy’s House

Roy's HouseWhat bet­ter way to famil­iar­ize one’s self with the work of pop cul­ture artist Roy Licht­en­stein than to walk through his house from liv­ing room to snack bar, from bath­room to bed­room, and final­ly into his stu­dio, where we can try our hand at paint­ing?

Susan Gold­man Rubin and her team at Chron­i­cle have cre­at­ed a book illus­trat­ed by Roy Lichtenstein’s paint­ings, Roy’s House, which lets us see up close his style of art, the col­ors he used, and the tech­nique of shad­ing col­or in dots.

printer's loupeIf you look at a news­pa­per or a mag­a­zine or a brochure, and you use a loupe (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: a small mag­ni­fi­er used espe­cial­ly by jew­el­ers and watch­mak­ers), you can dis­tin­guish among the dots used to lay the col­or down (the “halftone” tech­nique).

Dur­ing print­ing, when the col­or is laid down, those dots grow in size a bit. That’s called “dot gain” and print­ers expect it, com­pen­sat­ing on the orig­i­nal.

Licht­en­stein exag­ger­at­ed those dots, and the tech­nique of cross-hatch­ing, to make his paint­ings bold, bright, and mem­o­rable. His style is instant­ly rec­og­niz­able. As the back mat­ter states, “His first show shocked crit­ics in 1962.”

Roy's House

The text is min­i­mal (in keep­ing with Lichtenstein’s paint­ings) but the author still man­ages to imbue those words with warmth and humor, spark and spir­it. Mak­ing use of the artist’s dis­tinc­tive, jagged-edged thought bub­bles pro­vides ener­gy.

This is a book for the very young, the bud­ding artist or art col­lec­tor, and yet it’s also a book for those who love art, teach art, and are edu­cat­ing them­selves about the infi­nite styles with­in art. Lichtenstein’s work is icon­ic … and so is this book. (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: “wide­ly known and acknowl­edged espe­cial­ly for dis­tinc­tive excel­lence”)

Also take a look at the author’s book Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Licht­en­stein (Abrams), writ­ten for an old­er child.

For read­ers 12 and up, find a copy of Marc Aronson’s Art Attack: a Brief Cul­tur­al His­to­ry of the Avant-Garde (Clar­i­on Books).


Roads Not Taken

One Way SignMy brother’s dri­ving direc­tions are full of “roads not tak­en.”

He’ll say some­thing like, “Go about a mile and you’ll see Hamil­ton. Don’t turn there! You want the next street.” But with­out fail, I see Hamil­ton, remem­ber that it was part of his direc­tions, and turn before I’m sup­posed to.

My father and I are equal­ly direc­tion­al­ly incom­pat­i­ble. He’ll recite a mys­ti­fy­ing suc­ces­sion of com­pass points to me. To give him cred­it, I’m sure his direc­tions are com­plete­ly clear and sen­si­ble to some­body who can actu­al­ly tell east from west.

Here’s the only kind of direc­tions that seem to work for me: “Turn left at the third Dairy Queen.” I guar­an­tee I won’t miss a sin­gle turn if you use “ice cream direc­tions.”

It’s a sim­ple truth:  differ­ent approach­es work for differ­ent brains. What launch­es one student’s writ­ing road trip might amount to a “road not tak­en” approach for anoth­er. There is no “one way” that works to inspire every stu­dent. But for every stu­dent, there is prob­a­bly “one way” that will ulti­mate­ly inspire them.

When I first start­ed  teach­ing stu­dents to write, I found it frus­trat­ing when kids would ask if they could draw their sto­ries instead of write them. I saw my job as rein­forc­ing writ­ing skills, and I was afraid that the writ­ing would get upstaged.

But grad­u­al­ly I real­ized that for cer­tain stu­dents, draw­ing was the per­fect “gate­way” activ­i­ty to writ­ing. So while I still encour­age all stu­dents to work with words, I also make room for draw­ing as part of our brain­storm­ing and pre-writ­ing activ­i­ties.

Words are my artis­tic medi­um; draw­ing remains my per­son­al road not tak­en. But it turns out that you can fol­low two com­plete­ly differ­ent sets of direc­tions, offered by two peo­ple who think com­plete­ly differently—and some­how still end up at the same place!


Collecting your observations

Welcome to New Zealandby Vic­ki Palmquist

I nev­er kept a jour­nal. Why? It nev­er occurred to me. It wasn’t with­in my realm of famil­iar­i­ty. I start­ed writ­ing many sto­ries on note­book paper and stuffed them into fold­ers. But how sat­is­fy­ing to have a jour­nal, specif­i­cal­ly an obser­va­tion jour­nal to keep track of what you see, hear, and think.

As a child, I was a hunter-gath­er­er. Were you? Did you have a col­lec­tion of rocks? Leaves? Agates? Ani­mals? Per­haps you still do. Or per­haps you know a child who has these ten­den­cies.

I think of Rhoda’s Rock Hunt by Mol­ly Beth Grif­fith and Jen­nifer A. Bell (Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press). Rho­da col­lect­ed so many rocks on her family’s camp­ing trip that she couldn’t walk—they weighed her down.

Adding to Rhoda’s sto­ry, I think of Lois Ehlert’s The Scraps Book and Leaf Man. Author and illus­tra­tor Lois Ehlert is renowned for her col­lec­tions, her “scraps,” and how she puts them to use. A con­sum­mate hunter-gath­er­er.

Then there’s a brand new, absolute­ly amaz­ing book about cre­at­ing a nature jour­nal, Wel­come to New Zealand by San­dra Mor­ris (Can­dlewick Press). This pic­ture book com­bines the record-keep­ing, visu­al art sat­is­fac­tion, and exam­ples of dif­fer­ent things to observe in nature that will keep a hunter-gath­er­er busy for years. I admire this book on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els.

Welcome to New Zealand

Very clev­er­ly designed as a jour­nal, this book shows exam­ples of dif­fer­ent types of art, ways to arrange things on pages, labels, and note-tak­ing. There’s advice on press­ing leaves, observ­ing clouds and phas­es of the moon, and mak­ing a land­scape study. Every turn of the page brings a new sur­prise and some­thing to try on your own. (And you can do this—none of these excus­es about not being an artist—you are!)

Mor­ris writes, “Cre­ate a lay­ered map of the birds on the shore­line as the tide changes, like my high-tide jour­nal page here. Work­ing from the top of the page down­wards, draw the dif­fer­ent flocks as they advance clos­er.” Much bet­ter than ANY video game (and I like play­ing video games).

Welcome to New Zealand

Exam­ples of cray­on, pen­cil, water­col­or, and char­coal draw­ing will inspire each read­er. Plen­ti­ful sam­ples of cre­ative hand-let­ter­ing encour­age the free­dom to make your jour­nal quite per­son­al. Mor­ris pro­vides ideas, but unless you’re sit­ting on a beach in New Zealand as you read this, your jour­nal will be all your own.

And that’ just it. If you’re not in New Zealand, read­ing this book will teach you a lot about the land­scape, the mam­mals, the trees, the insects, and the sea­sons.

This book is great for any young hunter-gath­er­er and observ­er but any old per­son will like it, too! It’s a trea­sure.

Oth­er Resources

Smith­son­ian Kids has a site devot­ed to col­lect­ing.

Kids Love Rocks Fun Club

Dr. Patri­cia Nan Ander­son, Advantage4Parents, writes “Why Kids Love to Col­lect Stuff.

Now that you know about this book (you’re wel­come), and you try out some of the sug­gest­ed activ­i­ties, send me a sam­ple in the com­ments. Most of all, enjoy the time you spend with nature and your jour­nal.


Literary Madeleine: The Horse

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

The Horse coverThe Horse: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Hors­es in Art
Rachel Barnes and Simon Barnes
Quer­cus Pub­lish­ing 2008

We paint what mat­ters to us…”

Hors­es have always been part pf the human imag­i­na­tion”

                                           —from the intro­duc­tion

While prepar­ing for this month’s Bookol­o­gy I read and looked at many books about hors­es, and this is the one that was total­ly (totes!) unex­pect­ed. I was wowed. Even bet­ter, after an ini­tial perusal I felt com­pelled to page through it again and again, study­ing the text and savor­ing the images.

Cave Painting

Spot­ted Horse Cave Paint­ing
Las­caux, France
Click to enlarge.

In art, paint­ings over a cer­tain size are clas­si­fied as “mon­u­men­tal.” This is a mon­u­men­tal book, 17’’ (h) x 14” (w). Accord­ing­ly, the reproductions—many on dou­ble page spreads—are much larg­er than any that could be viewed on a com­put­er screen; fur­ther, the paper and image qual­i­ty suc­cess­ful­ly con­vey the tac­tile ele­ment of the art­work.

The price tag is also mon­u­men­tal; that along with the size would make this book a ques­tion­able one to add to a school library or a per­son­al col­lec­tion, but its impact as a class­room or liv­ing room vis­i­tor is easy to imag­ine.

Horses, Basilica San Marco

The Hors­es of Saint Mark,
St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca
Venice, Italy
Click to enlarge.

His­to­ry? You bet. The book is orga­nized chrono­log­i­cal­ly, from the cave painters to Picas­so. How did the human rela­tion­ship to hors­es change? Why? How did those changes show up in our art?

Sci­ence? You bet. The green pati­na on the bronze hors­es at Saint Mark’s in Venice is enough to trig­ger many con­ver­sa­tions about basic chem­istry and pol­lu­tion.

The Piebald Horse

The Piebald Horse 1650–4 The Get­ty Cen­ter
Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia USA
Click to enlarge.

Lan­guage arts? You bet. Begin with Paulus Potter’s paint­ing, “The Piebald Horse.” Piebald. This vet­er­an writ­ing teacher smiles at the idea of using the word as a prompt for any num­ber of writ­ing exer­cis­es.

Of course, there would be some class­room cau­tions should the book be shared that way. Because the focus is on West­ern art, the ear­ly sec­tions include a fair amount of Chris­t­ian imagery. And—yet again—most of the (known) artists are white men.

The Horse Fair

The Horse Fair, 1853–5 Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art New York, New York USA Click to enlarge.

The excep­tions to the white-guys trope are fab­u­lous, though, and they should be added to any list of report-wor­thy indi­vid­u­als:

Rosa Bon­heur (The Horse Fair, left): “In order to make stud­ies at the horse sale in Paris she obtained police per­mis­sion to dress up as a man, so she could move more eas­i­ly around the crowd” (p.123). 

Bronco Busting

Bron­co Bust­ing c.1925–35 Smith­son­ian Amer­i­can Art Muse­um, Wash­ing­ton DC USA Click to enlarge.

Veli­no Shi­je Her­rera (Bron­co Bust­ing, right): “Her­rera was born in Zia Pueblo in New Mex­i­co. He became rec­og­nized for his quo­tid­i­an scenes of the Pueblo Indi­an Life … this work is signed with his Native Amer­i­can name Ma Pe Wi” (p. 184).

One final warn­ing: this is not a lap book. To savor it you will need a table and time.




The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

Some­times I want to walk right into the pages of a book, know every­thing the author knows, share their life­time of expe­ri­ences, and be able to emu­late their cre­ativ­i­ty. Scraps: Notes from a Col­or­ful Life makes me feel that way. I’ve even enjoyed the feel­ing and tex­ture of the paper because I want in! For […]


Gifted: Walk This World

Walk This World: a Cel­e­bra­tion of Life in a Day Lot­ta Niem­i­nen, a Finnish-born graph­ic design­er and art direc­tor Big Pic­ture Press, an imprint of Can­dlewick Press, Novem­ber 2013 As you con­sid­er gifts for this hol­i­day sea­son, we sug­gest … (book #2 in our Gift­ed rec­om­men­da­tions) … Vis­it 10 coun­tries in one book! This styl­ish […]