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February 2011

Seasons changing

Winter hill

Tilly and I go into the hills on an early morning in mid-winter. The ground is frozen underfoot, frost crackling under paw and boot, but the sun rises to warm us as we climb, up and up and up. The path leads to the bench where we often sit and watch the world below: the birds in the bracken, the sheep in the fields, the cows on the Common, the moor beyond.

Winter hill 2

"To me, literature is a calling, even a kind of salvation," Susan Sontag once said. "It connects me with an enterprise that is over two thousand years old. What do we have from the past? Art and thought. That's what lasts."

This also lasts. The sun. The land. The mist floating over the patchwork fields. And walking through the hills with a good black dog is another kind of salvation.

Winter hill 3

Winter 4

There are snowdrops blooming in the underbrush; we are on the downward slope of winter now. I can feel things quickening inside me, new ideas and a fresh green energy that will rise like sap as winter ends.

"Not much longer," I whisper to Tilly. She feels it too. And we are ready.


Daffodil shoots

The Dog's Tale

What is and what is not fox

Dearest Tilly,

You are a dog. You are not a fox. You do not need to smell like a fox; you do not need to roll in fox poo.  If you're ever in doubt on this issue, please refer to the chart above.


          Your loving family (as we collectively hold our noses)


On Your Desk

BasementStudio(Click on the image for a larger version.)

The two desktops in the picture above come from Leland Purvis in Portland, Oregon. Besides being one my favorite people, and married to another one of my favorite people, Leland is an amazing artist and creator of books published in the comics and YA fields. His publications include the "Vox" series, the "Pubo" series, Suspended in Language (with writer Jim Ottaviani), and the new "Resistance" graphic novel trilogy (with writer Carla Jablonski).

About the photo(s) above, Leland says: "Basement studios aren't ideal, but I seem to find myself in them again and again. There's a quality about being down and away from the world, sealed off from indications of time and weather, that allows for a focus otherwise more difficult to maintain. It isn't just about having a place to work, but a 'placeness' that provides conditions in which I can direct my attention, deliberately, repeatedly. I can spend hours below fostering worlds on paper with brushes and return to discover the surface changed and grown while I was away."

Oh boy, can I relate to that....

To see Leland's art and learn more about his books, visit his website and his blog, Purvision. I've also include a few sketches below, just to give you a taste....

By Leland Purvis

Scarecrow by Leland Purvis


Coltrane by Leland Purvis

Our next desk comes from an artist and writer who also has a strong interest in comics: Robin Berk in central Michagan. Robin (who is 8) lives with his parents, Ari Berk and Kristen McDermott, and a lively new kitten named Gwynneth. Both of his parents are writers, and his father also paints; creativity is the Family Business.

About the photo below, Robin says: "Well, I like to draw at my desk, that's what it's basically for. I like to draw fantasy pictures, science pictures, and science fiction pictures. Some of the pictures come from things I read, or stories I hear, like myths and legends."


"On my desk right now is a black hole picture; a comic book I am working on; a wand from my friend John Vickery who lives on Dartmoor; a three-eyed green monster I drew and cut out; lots of drawing supplies like pencils, markers, glue sticks, a stapler; and lots of paper. My desk is located in a corner of my dad's study, right in front of his desk [featured in this "On Your Desk" post on December 14th]. It's nice that our desks are facing each other because we can look at each other while we're writing or drawing.

"Here are three of my drawings (below): Medusa, A Feast For Two Rats, and The Gross-Guts Skeleton: "




"The skeleton hangs in our front hall," says Robin, "and his legs, fingers, neck and head are all jointed with paper fasteners so he can bend and move. He sort of guards the front door."

And no doubt does a good job of it too!

Our final work table of the day belongs to fiber artist and poet Karen Obermiller. ""I live in Otter Tail County, Minnesota," says Karen, "where the prairie meets the forest. I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment for now,  and I've limiting my art work to knitting hats. Even so, the yarn and finished work are creeping forward into corners and over couches like spring unfurling. It's a wilderness.

"The photograph (below) shows my workspace on a fairly tidy day. If you look carefully, the book at the bottom of the pile is The Wood Wife, which I'm just starting."

Karen's desk

To view (or purchase) Karen's rather fabulous hats, please visit her Etsy shop, Pseko Designs. "I've also just shyly begun a new blog," she says, which you can visit here.

Nefertiti's Hat by Psekeo Design

More desks to come....


All readers of this blog are welcome to contribute to the "On Your Desk" series. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photo) in the first post of the series.

On Your Desk

Anna's desk 1

Today's desks come from two women whose work I absolutely adore, one an artist in New England and the other a writer in the American Midwest.

First the artist: Anna Brahms is a master doll and puppet maker in western Massachusetts. She lives in a cozy old house by a river and is inspired by fairy tales, nature spirits, and the beauty of the land around her. Anna studied art at the University of Jerusalem and spent two years performing with a traveling puppet theater troupe before turning her hand to making puppets and dolls -- living and working first in Jerusalem and Paris, then settling in the U.S. in 1981. Her beautiful art has been exhibited extensively across the U.S. and Europe, and has been displayed in Christmas windows at Tiffany and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, in the Muse'e des Arts Decoratifs in the Louvre in Paris, and numerous other places.

Anna's desk 2

Anna's desktop can be seen in the two photographs above and in the next photograph below. "I too love seeing artists' work spaces," she says; "it reveals so much about the artistic process. As a puppet and doll maker, my specialty is characters from fairy tales, and all sorts of mischievous nature spirits, faeries and such, so my work space is always crowded with lots of stuff important to this kind of work. Both puppet and doll making involves all sorts of crafts, such as sewing, painting, sculpting, and wig making,  so I am always busy doing something, even on those days when I don't feel especially inspired.

"My table is a mess," Anna admits. "My whole studio is that way. But being a Virgo, there is an order to my mess! At least, I usually know where to find things...."

Anna's desk 3

The next two pictures are examples of Anna's work: scenes from "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" respectively. There's more -- oh, so much more -- on her website, which is absolutely filled with marvels to inspire you, delight you, and touch your heart.

Cinderella by Ann Brahms

Sleeping Beauty by Anna Brahms

The next desk belongs to Pamela Dean in Minneapolis, the author of some of my very favorite fantasy novels (Tam Lin, The Secret Country Trilogy, The Dubious Hills, and Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary), and a handful of splendid short stories too (of which "Owlswater," published in Jane Yolen's anthology Xanadu in 1993, still haunts me all these years later).

"My pictures will look dreadfully scruffy on your beautiful blog,"  writes Pamela, "but I love the 'On Your Desk' series so much I wanted to contribute to it." Okay, perhaps writers' desk aren't usually as colorful as a typical artist's desk, crowded with paints and exotic-looking tools -- but I think that's what gives the magic conjured by writers a glamour of its own: the mysterious process in which whole worlds are created and characters brought vividly to life by the simple means of words upon a white page or computer screen.

Jane Yolen once wrote: "I have always been jealous of artists. The smell of the studio, the names of the various tools, the look of a half-finished canvas all shout of creation. What do writers have in comparison? Only the flat paper, the clacketing of the typewriter or the scrape of a pen across a yellow page. And then, when the finished piece is presented, there is a small wonder on one hand, a manuscript smudged with erasures or crossed out lines on the other. The impact of the painting is immediate, the manuscript must unfold slowly through time."

Ah, but then there's the book in the end...that beautiful object that many of us still love even in this age of the Kindle. And here, below, is the workspace of a woman whose books are completely enchanting:

Pamela's desk 3

"This is my immediate work area. The White Flower Farm catalog is a valuable tool of research, and the Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer CDs are the music I write to at the moment."

Pamela's desk 2

"These are the windows I face when I work.  The quilt was made for me by my grandmother after Ace Books put forty-one unicorns on the cover of The Secret Country."

Pamela's desk 4

"This the only bookshelf I could get at to photograph. A lot of these reference books are being replaced by the Internet, but sometimes I still prefer to open an actual book."

Pamela's desk 5

"And finally, the cat on the printer." (Yes, another workspace with its animal Muse.)

For more information on Pamela and her books, please visit her website/blog, Love and Rhetoric Without the Bood.

And I'll have more desks for you later this week....