An Alphabet of Place

Our book is finally finished and published and for sale!! Lots of people decry social media, but without it Sharon ( and I wouldn’t have known about each other, and this project wouldn’t have happened. For me it was a chance to do something that was a little artistically risky and to learn something new about myself and abilities. I enjoyed it so much, and it was a wonderful thing to work on over the past few months.

The book is a collection of brief essays and anecdotes about life and history in this little-known part of Wyoming/Colorado. The stories are funny, beautiful and heartfelt.

A couple years ago my editor suggested I go into business as a book designer. I said, “Huh?”

She said, “Yeah. You’re good at it.”

“I am?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. I wasn’t so sure. When I began judging for the contest I saw some books that had been enormously expensive productions, including their designs. Some indie authors spend more money than (IMO) they are likely to earn on designing their book. I’ve read/evaluated some gorgeous productions that are, in and of themselves, unreadable. Some of the best books (content) are the simplest productions. The truism is actually true: you can’t judge a book by its cover but, at the same time, the winners are almost always well designed AND worth reading.

Once in a while a book is blindingly beautiful. There was more than one this go-around.

My editor — Beth Bruno — is an amazing woman. I don’t know how she manages to get along with all the authors who go to her with their work and then don’t want to hear what she had to say or who question every correction/suggestion she makes. She told me it’s common that she’ll (and she’s tactful and gentle) suggest an edit or correction and be challenged by the author. Authors can be defensive and when it comes to grammar? It’s amazing how territorial writers can be. I said to her, “Well, you make suggestions and corrections all the time. I figure I can take them or leave them. It’s not like you’re my boss.”

“Exactly,” she said.

“It’s not like you’re grading my work or something.”

I privately thought, “English teachers do a lot of damage,” but having BEEN one I thought I should keep that to myself. Grammar and punctuation are NOT writing.

So, part way into the illustration part of the job I had the realization (duh) that my work was going into a book and suddenly I wanted to be part of how the book came out. I didn’t know how much experience the writer had with book design and it turned out not much and godnose my price was right, so I undertook the task of designing the book. It was at least as much fun as doing the illustrations. I’d definitely take on a project like this again if the person I was working with were as awesome a partner as Sharon and their project something I believed in as much as I believed in this one.

More Ink Drawings!

Finishing the drawings for An Alphabet of Place: The Little Snake River Valley by my blogging pal, Sharon O’Toole of Ladder Ranch, I felt a little bereft. I’d done some ink drawings before I began Sharon’s project, but never 30+ of them over a concentrated period of time. They were — once I got over my initial nervousness — meditative, challenging and fun. In the back of my mind something else was percolating. When I got an email from Louise, who runs the Rio Grande County Museum, I knew what it was.

A similar little book about Rio Grande County Colorado — my county! No one knows more about it than Louise Colville, and she and I seem to work well together. I suggested it to her and sent her a PDF of Sharon’s book. She loved it. Yesterday I drove to Del Norte to collect my riches (I sold a sign and two packs of note cards) and we chatted about it for a while. It’s a go. She’s going to present the idea to the museum board on Tuesday so I’ve had to ask Li Bai and Tu Fu to share some space on my drawing table. They’re very cooperative beans and said it was fine as long as I kept taking them outside to catch the sun every morning. They also promised to be clean and keep their dirt in the pot.

The board meeting is this coming Tuesday and my job is to come up with a few drawings for which Louise will write the text. Hopefully, we’ll get a grant and some money.

It’s cool to have shouldered another drawing project. A writer inspired Sharon, who in turn inspired me and now Louise. It’s weird. I used to be a famous writer, but now I don’t want the job. Thinking about that, I remembered being in Chicago so long ago when there was an irrational marriage proposal on the table. I was walking through the garden of my erstwhile boyfriend’s parents with his dad, Frank. The relationship with his son was over and his dad knew it, the boyfriend knew it, I knew it but I was stuck there for another 30 some hours. Back at home, in Denver, I had been painting and drawing and pondering the possibility of showing my work. I talked about this with Frank. He said, “I thought you were a writer. Now you’re an artist? What’s the deal there? Why not a writer?”

I told him that visual art was more rewarding. I could SEE it and its effects even as I worked, and it didn’t take so much effort for others to see it. At the time I was writing what I thought was a novel (it was a journal) and sometimes poetry. But then, as now, I don’t think there’s any valid law that says a person can be and do only ONE thing.

Anyway, it’s nice to have more drawings to do. I think my biggest discovery during this pandemic is how much I love making art, just for itself. However, I must now carry Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho, Bai Juyi and Szu-ma Chien out to the garden of the Thousand Aspiring Iris.

Featured photo: Adobe Potato Barn, first “letter” in the little book

The Project and the Drawings

Not long after Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog came to live with me and my other two dogs, Dusty T. and Mindy T. Dog, I began looking around for information about livestock guardian dogs. What had I brought into my world? Bear wasn’t like other dogs I’d lived with. I wanted to know more. I “Googled” Livestock Guardian Dogs and then, learning Bear is an Akbash dog, I Googled the breed. Everything said “Not good for small houses and yards. Need to roam.” Well, Bear was living in a small house with small yard. I figured I could help her roam. “Must socialize to people.” I could do that.

Unexpectedly, I stumbled on a blog written by Sharon O’Toole, a rancher in southwestern Wyoming. She and her husband have several thousand sheep and hundreds of cows, all guarded scrupulously by Akbash and Akbash mix dogs and organized by a troop of border collies.

Sharon is a fine writer and a journalist besides being a rancher. In the fullness of time, and reading her blog for all these years, we have gotten to kind of know each other in the cyber way that has been enhanced by Covid. We became friends on Facebook. She approached me a few months back to see if I wanted to illustrate the project she was working on and I did. That’s what all the ink drawings are for.

I really like her deadlines. “Well, lambing starts in April,” which means, “It would be good to have all the drawings by then.”

It’s been a fun and challenging project for me, and I haven’t always been successful, which is OK. I’m not sure when the project will be done and published, but I think before the end of May/first of June. Generally, it’s a small book about the beautiful valley in which she lives, the Little Snake River Valley. To see something of her life and this lovely place check out her blog, Ladder Ranch.

Bean Update 1 for Spring/Summer 2021

It will be a while before they sprout but the Scarlet Emperor Beans of 2020, the third generation of seeds that began with a packet I bought five years ago, are planted and ready to grow. I planted twelve on the hope that I will find a sunny spot for all of them. And they may not all come up. I do not know “who” they will be this year, but for now they are the “children” of the undaunted Tang Dynasty poets, Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho, Bai Juyi, and Wang Wei.

Just in case this makes NO SENSE TO YOU (understandably because it’s a little mad to name one’s bean plants) here’s what this year’s beans parents were doing last July. Morning Gossip of the Scarlet Emperor Beans.

Meanwhile spring is doing its thing. Ravens and magpies fly by with twigs in their mouths to contribute to the nest. The crocus are blooming and the daffodils are up. Bear’s patch of snow is really gone, but it could snow more and we hope it does. We’re still in drought. Normally by now I’ve got other seeds going, but this year I’m a little behind. It doesn’t matter. I can’t put anything outside until June 1. 🙂

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Meanwhile I have more drawings to do. Yesterday I drew the Little Snake River. I’ve never illustrated someone else’s book before and I’m enjoying it very much. I “met” the author of the book I’m illustrating here on Word Press a while back, I think 2016. Her blog is Ladder Ranch and shows what’s going on with her ranch in Wyoming. I found it in a search for Livestock Guardian Dogs. She has something like 14 dogs like Bear that work hard to guard her sheep. She lives in one of Wyoming’s most remote and little touristed regions and, strangely, I’ve been through her valley a time or two. It’s a little off the beaten track of my family’s twice-a-year pilgrimage from Denver to Montana, but sometimes my parents liked to go a different way. In the days before the Interstate, any highway was drivable as any other. I was there again as a semi-grownup when the first X was studying at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and took me for my first X-country skiing nightmare I mean adventure. 😉

“It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose. He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand. The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.” Kandinsky

More Ink Drawings

Yesterday I was out with Teddy and we had a great time. Soon after I came home, the air pressure dropped like a MF and I got a migraine so THAT’S the explanation. I hate the day after (that would be today) but feeling better now so did another drawing.

Here are the last two days work. It will be cool to be finished and see the book! Ahead of me are some people pictures and landscapes and, I think, a car. I’m about halfway there

This was in my email this morning. Cracked me up.

Quotidian Update 7 x 10 to the nth power

Bear thanks everyone for all the birthday wishes or she would if she had any idea about having had a birthday, but, you know, she’s a dog. Yesterday I was called for my appointment for my second shot and that was kind of fun. First I was going to a local clinic next Saturday. Then I was told I was going to the fair grounds in Alamosa. Later on I learned I was going to the Rec center in Alamosa. I don’t care where it is. I am just glad they called. I have gotten a few glimpses of what it will be like in that great unknown “after,” but still I’m not sure about that. It doesn’t matter at all because you know what? I’ll find out.

Meanwhile I’m making a little progress on the ink drawings.

I also splurged on an investment for my “business.” I’ve been standing over the drawing table which is mostly OK but after a while it really gets my shoulders so I bought a stool.

I haven’t unwrapped it yet. I didn’t want to jinx the possible return. I wanted to make sure it was what I needed. It is