Friday

B is for....

Hey Beautiful People!
It's time for my second update for Catabet to introduce you to our B character! 

I was about halfway into writing the text before I came up with the idea to name all the characters after fashion icons, and this was the original name that was hardest to give up--Bartholemew. I loved the punny play on words to have "mew" in the name, plus my guy really looks like a Bartholemew to me. Nonetheless, I have now settled on the name "Bruno" for a multitude of international designers-- Bruno Schiavi of Australia, Bruno Pieters from Brussels, and Bruno Basso from Brazil.

B is for Bruno,
who, from this day hereby,pledged to never be seen
without his bowtie!
You may have caught a glance at this kitty in my Kickstarter video or the image I initially posted on the campaign page, but I decided that I wasn't quite happy with that initial incarnation so eyes and whiskers have been recently modified to spice him up a little. I might add a boutonniere as well, so don't be surprised if you see that in the book!

Bruno is a Bengal Cat, which is a breed that looks a lot like a leopard.  I still have to write the very last part of the text on this page, so I'll include that breed name there.

 I loved getting to paint his fancy shoes, similar to my Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker from Alphabird!
I'm honored to be Kickstarter's featured publishing project today and am crossing my fingers that it will bring me closer to hitting the 75% mark today.....only $270 away from that milestone!  Thank all of you who have helped me get this far in only five days and I can't wait to show you the next eight kitties that I plan to present in the next week!  If you haven't pledged yet, what are you waiting for? Click here to be my valentine by helping me hit 75%!
Have a great weekend!
Hilary

Tuesday

A is for.....

Hello Beautiful People!
First of all, I want to tell you how excited I am to be working on my new book. It's been on my mind for years and feels fantastic to be actually making it happen. I can't believe it's already over 60% funded after a little more than a day. Woohoo!!
We'll start with  the letter A, for which I chose to have my Abysinnian cat wearing an Apron and other clothing that have Argyle patterns. This breed is named after Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia) the country from which it was first thought to have originated--but now it's been discovered that its origins are actually somewhere near the Egyptian coast.
Here's a combo shot of my parts that made this figure next to the sketch I did. This rhyme came to me pretty easily, unlike some of the other ones you'll see in future posts. You can also see that I scrapped the original idea of an all-argyle apron in favor of leggings and the mitten being dominant, and the smile and apron matching. It's not easy, but also kind of fun to paint a pattern as precise as argyle.


So now I want to tell you a little secret. Every cat's name in this book is in honor of a fashion designer, model, or icon from history. Fun, huh? This will be briefly mentioned in the glossary, but it's here that you'll get to learn a little more without having to do the work yourself! 

Audrey is named for Audrey Hepburn, who changed the way many women dressed after seeing her in movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's in the iconic "little black dress." I bet she could have stylishly sported an argyle apron as well.
I'm not planning on making the figures in the book in alphabetic order, but I have finished A, B and C and have already started making seven more. I'm on a mission to get as much as I can done in the next 28 days while this campaign is alive. Are you ready to roll with me? Good. I'll be back in a day or two to introduce you to another kitty.
Thanks again for your support of this project! If you know any cat-loving friends you can share this with, that would be swell. Click here to go to the Catabet Kickstarter page!
And now, for your moment of Zen: 

 take care,
Hilary

Monday

Catabet is funding on Kickstarter now!

Hey Beautiful People!

Just wanted to give you the heads up that my fourth book Catabet is officially on Kickstarter! Woohoo! That means I'll be back to blogging a lot about the creation of each figure for the book in the next few months.

Click here to become a part of Catabet!
 

Tuesday

Alphabird has Fledged!



 Oh my.....it's been a very long and intense four days, as I pushed to get this book done so I could stay on schedule. The push started early Friday morning, when I had to carefully pack up all of the birds for the six hour photo shoot took place at the studio of Dan Kvitka. I had spent the previous week creating a crude dummy of the book (with the help of my new intern Sonja!)  so we would know our background colors and positioning in advance and save some time. Here's a few still shots of the day, beginning with a shot of all the freshly unpacked birds laid out on the table waiting for their moment: 


we started with A, and proceeded to shoot all the other birds on the light blue backdrop. 


 This was my view for about half of the day--making sure it looks right in the camera and comparing it to my dummy book.


Once I had my photos, I spent a mad 24 hours on the weekend doing the real layout of each page on my computer, followed by a thorough proofreading by my childhood friend Janet Harris on Sunday night, and then yesterday was spent updating the editorial corrections and working with the publisher on all the pesky last minute details. Phew! Sooooooooo glad to have this one in the can! 
And now.....I have a little surprise for you! There's one more bird I made for the dedication page--a special bird I designed along with my goddaughter Birdie.  At some point, I took a photo of her holding the drawings we did together, but I'm not sure where they are, so I'll just present the title page to you now: 


 Birdie requested a pink bird, and we decided it should have a Davy Crockett hat on--one of Birdie's favorite characters. (The other historical contender for this bird's outfit was Abraham Lincoln!) I want to save the bird to be a surprise for her when the book is published, so I will leave you now with this sweet shot of Birdie and my dog Weegee at the soap box derby races last month.  


take care,
Hilary

Friday

Ready for the last Alphabird?????

Hey Beautiful People!
This is it.....our final bird in the book! 

 V is for Violet,
a violinist so mod,
froze her skates into ice
and played till it thawed!

Some of you may have perked up your ears when you read that ditty....it's an homage to one of my favorite musicians, Laurie Anderson, a violin-wielding performance artist. One of her early performances was titled Duet on Ice, where she froze her ice skate blades into a block of ice and then played until they thawed.  Here's a video of her performing the piece a few years ago: 
 I guess my Vireo is in for a very long performance, since her skates are fully encased in the giant ice block!  I really set myself up for a challenge with this piece--first by having to figure out how to shape the wings so they can believably play a violin in an anthropomorphic way, but also learning about casting resins that will yield a crystal clear "ice block."
I found a polyester resin and set to testing before I put my precious Violet into the mix. One risk is that the resin will cloud or bubble up, especially when you're casting natural materials like wood. I felt that my piece had so many paint layers that it would be fine, but just in case, I did a tiny test with a painted wood piece leftover from my playing card set--a peacock feather I made from wood, wire and paint: 

 Well, that looks pretty good, I thought.....so I embarked on my larger mold. The biggest challenge was how to pour the resin into the mold, not spilling it on my bird. The tail I made was really getting in the way, so I removed it and added it back on after the cube was done. I was so nervous this morning taking the mold walls off, since the violin bow is quite delicate, but fortunately, it worked. Here's the process shots I took along the way so you can vicariously bite your nails along with me! 





 Voila! 
So happy to be done with the birds and move onto the photo shoot a week from today! 
Thanks again to everyone for their encouragement along the way. Once the book is done and off to the printer, I will be contacting the Kickstarter supporters who pledged for original artwork as your rewards to figure out how I can make you happy!  For anyone who missed the Kickstarter but wants a bird or a book now that you've seen them all, you'll have to wait until November when the book launches at the Portland Audubon Wild Arts Festival in late November! Sign up for my email list and you'll get a friendly reminder closer to the date.
take care,
Hilary

    Thursday

    Z is for.....


    Hello Beautiful People!
    I'm a little bleary-eyed today after staying up most of last night to watch my Night Blooming Cereus flower do its thing for the very first time in the 14 years I've owned it. (click here to see my time-lapse video) But I'm back with the Z bird today--a Zebra Finch who lives in a zither! 
     Z is for Zelda,
    whose chirp goes "tick-tock."
    She lives in a zither-shaped
    cute cuckoo clock.
     This is definitely one of the larger and more intricate pieces in the book. Gotta go out with a bang, right? Here's a few detail shots so you can appreciate the shingled roof: 
     And here's that clock face and two zebra finch cuckoo birds! 
     I'm planning on doing the mockup for the book soon, so I will have to figure out the best angle to show all the details.
    Thanks everyone who has sent such sweet messages to me in the past week as I've been finishing this stage of the project. I haven't had the time to respond to everyone, but know that I have read them all and am so thankful. 
    There's one last bird in the Alphabird alphabet.....V.  I *think* I'll be able to present it tomorrow, but it's been giving me some challenges that I believe I tackled today. You'll see why. It will be so worth it if it works!  
    And now, your moment of Zen: 
     take care,
    Hilary

    Wednesday

    X is for.....

    Hello again beautiful people!
    It's a good thing the avian kingdom is so large, and that we have thoughtful countries like Mexico who use the letter X at the beginning of so many words. For the aforementioned reasons, our book could proudly include the Xenops as its X species. 

     X is for Xerxes,
    whose plumage was brown,
    but it didn't inhibit
    his need to get down!

    This was a fun one to make.  I took advantage of his all brown plumage (unusual for a bird found south of the border! and added the brown shoes so familiar in my childhood and now oddly back in vogue: Birkenstocks 

     Here's the full piece as it will look in the book: 


     This shot allows you to appreciate the wingspan with slightly curved wingtips:

     I wish I could say this instrument was also playable, like the marimba I made.....but maybe this video will make up for it. 

     Back tomorrow with.....not sure yet, but it will be good!
    take care.
    Hilary

    Tuesday

    Y is for.....

    Hello Beautiful People! 
    Here we go again....continuing our push to complete the characters of Alphabird this week!  I'm really excited about this one, so sit tight for lots of documentation..... 

     Y is for Yuki
    who mastered the yu,
    while also tap-shoe-ing
    and yodeling too.

    As you may have guessed, Y was one of the more challenging letters of the book. I returned to my woodpecker family to make a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, and was only offered two ancient Chinese musical instruments. One choice was the Yun-Lo--a gong.....but that was already covered, so I was happy to fall back on the obsolete Chinese wind instrument, the Yu. 

    To be honest, I'm not really sure how this thing is played, and there are no videos to be found, to the best of my knowledge. I did find this description, that makes me think there are several tunings to this instrument: "multiple bamboo pipes fixed in a wind chest which may have been made of bamboo, wood, or gourd. Each pipe contained a free reed, which was also made of bamboo. Whereas the sheng was used to provide harmony (in fourths and fifths), the yu was played melodically. The instrument was used, often in large numbers, in the court orchestras of ancient China (and also imported to Korea and Japan) but is no longer used."
    There's some great lore associated with this instrument, according to Wikipedia: Although the yu is now obsolete, it is known to most Chinese speakers through the saying "Làn yú chōng shù" (滥竽充数), meaning "to fill a position without having the necessary qualifications." The saying is derived from the story of Nanguo, a man from southern China who joined the royal court orchestra of King Xuan of Qi (宣王, 319 BC–300 BC), the ruler of the State of Qi (Shandong province) as a yu player. Although the man did not actually know how to play this instrument, he knew that the orchestra had no fewer than 300 yu players, so he felt secure that he could simply pretend to play, and thus collect a musician's salary. Upon the king's death, Nanguo was eventually found out as an impostor when the king's son Min (泯王, 300 BC–283 BC), who had succeeded his father as king, asked the musicians to play individually rather than as a group. On the night before he was to play, Nanguo fled the palace, never to return.
    Since yodeling is something I'll have to indicate via text in the book, I decided to add lederhosen to my sapsucker: 

     I was happy to find several dashing pairs of masculine tap shoes to emulate as well: 

     So now I present to you, our Yu-playing, tap dancing and yodeling Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker: 


     As with the nose flute, I had a great time looking at yodeling videos. Here are my two favorites: 


     Back tomorrow with X!!!!!!
    take care,
    Hilary

    Monday

    T is for.....

    Hello Beautiful People! I'm back today with our T-Bird (dang it....I clearly missed that pun opportunity....oh well....)--------> the Tanager!  
     T is for Tammy,
    who lived by the lake.
    Sh played tambourine
    'til her kids were awake.
    The Tanager is a bird species that can come in many colors. Here's a photo I found with five different varieties from more tropical climes: the Golden Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Red-necked Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager.
     One of the more common Tanagers we see in the eastern parts of the United States is the Scarlet Tanager: 
     But I decided to go with my local variety, the Western Tanager:
    Behold, our Alphabirds: 
    And now, for my favorite part of these updates.....the video accompaniment. I present to you, Gonzo: Asia's First Tambourine Master: 
     back tomorrow with another bird!
    take care,
    Hilary

      Saturday

      The Owl and the......

      Hello Beautiful People!  
      So now we're up to the letter O, and for that letter, I remembered my friend Edward Lear who inspired these books: 
       Apparently, this book has come to life in Japan! 
      Here's my little poem about the owl with his oboe. 
       O is for Oscar
      who just could not sleep.
      He'd practice his oboe
      rather than counting sheep.
      O! An owl who ought to observe his bedtime!
       There are too many wonderful owl species to choose from, so I went more cartoonish with our friend Oscar, giving him rainbow chest feathers and ears. Here's a detail shot when I was painting the feathers in:
       At this juncture, I've made all of the figures for the book and just need to paint them in the next few weeks. I'm still on schedule for my late November release, and for you Kickstarter backers reading this who pledged for sculpture rewards, I will contact you in September once the book is sent off to the printer to get going on your projects. Here's a studio shot of most of the elements I'll be painting in the coming weeks: 
       So now I will fly off into the sunset, but not without leaving another owl video for your amusement. 
      take care,
      Hilary

        Thursday

        We're Up all Night to get Fun-Q-ie!

        Hello Beautiful People!
        We're coming down the homestretch with the last eight birds underway!  Today's post will reveal our Q bird--which wasn't that hard, but finding an instrument that started with a Q.......?  Well, I'm happy with my choice for this one. 
         Q is for Quincy
        world renowned disco queen,
        she strummed funky pop hits
        on a rhinestone qinqin!
        So.....for those of you unfamiliar with ancient Chinese instruments......a qinqin is a three (or four) stringed guitar-type instrument, as exemplified by the YouTube master playing for a captive audience: 
         I found a nice image online of a beautifully designed qinqin as such: 
         and based mine on that design as such: 
         Apparently, birds are no stranger to roller skates: 
        (xoxoxoxo Carol Spinney!)
        Growing up in the 70's, I really loved to roller skate. I wasn't into fancy tricks or anything, but really loved the free feeling it embodied.  Here's a few videos I found to show you what I mean. 
         Back soon with the letter O!  
        take care,
        Hilary