Sunday, December 13, 2009

How to Spark a Story:

Start by NOT writing it. I meet lots of folks with a story, a song, a project tucked inside them, yet they they have not written it down or shared it. I do my best to nudge it out. I'm a big champion of the "talent within." I have a belief that there is greatness, magic, power, and wisdom tucked within each of us. The alternative is to keep it bottled up. Sometimes bottled ideas ferment, but often they are not properly corked and they evaporate. Not good. Writing it down, getting from inside to the outside, is not always easy. That blank page can be daunting. Sometimes words don't always flow easily. I love the title of the Talking Heads' album: "Stop Making Sense." Too many of us feel the pressure of "getting it right." In a journal, you have permission to stop trying to make it all make sense. The wonderful thing about journals is that they don't come with strict rules on what you put into them. Why not try a drawing? A simple doodle. A squiggly line. If the spirit moves you, you can a draw face, or a place, a dog, or a teacup or a suitcase. Go ahead and combine things that don't "make sense." The face could be peering from the suitcase. The dog could be sipping tea. Can you begin to feel the story sparks fly? Let art trigger words. It can be your doodle, drawing, painting, or paste in art you find in the world. I have a friend in Paris who sends me wonderful e-mails with barely a word... she just pastes in art she has found on her online museum wanderings. In my own journals, I'll find myself drawing a line that turns into something. I am often surprised by the odd little scenes that emerge. A huge boat resting on a house. A girl painting the petals of a flower. A dog playing piano in the rain. They are images in search of their stories.
Don't feel pressure to have to find a story for every image. Some odd little scenes may be perfectly happy to just be odd little scenes camped out in your journal forever. Months later I may go back through my story-journals (I have stacks of them) and will see one of these scenes and it doesn't necessarily trigger a story, but rather a question. "Who will the girl give that painted flower to?" "Why is a dog playing a piano?" "Is that tree reaching for the stars?" 

 My mind starts to explain these intriguing scenes. A story may follow. I have a version of the old expression: "The story writes itself." "The story paints itself." Images ARE stories. Stories are paintings. Every word is a color waiting to be splashed on the blank canvas of your journal. Adjectives are vivid colors. Verbs are streaks of paint that add motion to the story. Nouns are dashes of light and dark making forms emerge. Here's a little haiku I created: The majestic sky. Star, hung silently, deep sigh. Can't reach you. Too high. Close your eyes and imagine it. Use the words to paint the image. What color was the sky? Who was reaching for the star? What did the star look like? Were there other stars there? Readers will add "frosting" effortlessly as the words are read and projected in the mind's cinema. How can that be? Creating images from words that are not even there? THAT is the magic about writing. Your words will not only paint the obvious images, but will also drum up the unpredicted, unique colors and shapes tucked in the minds of your readers. 

 Let art inspire your words. 

 Let words inspire art. 

Go ahead. Paint yourself a story.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"The dream shall never die..."

As I listened to the funeral Mass for Senator Ted Kennedy, I was inspired and moved by many of the tributes to him, but it was his own words that really resonated with me. I heard these words and picked up my pens and brushes and made this little painting. My watercolor celebration of his mission.... which is, of course, now our mission.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tree-ish, Bird-ish, Flower-ish

This is a collaboration between a young kindergarten lad, Declan, and myself. His original was a bit faint, having drawn it in light pencil, but we loved the image and wanted to print it in our creativity magazine for children called HUTCH published by FableVision/The Blue Bunny. I decided to scan the image and drop it my graphics program and then trace over using my WACOM Bamboo graphic tablet and pen. I added color, but really stayed true to Declan's fabulous line. I am amazed at the freedom and confidence of his images! This is why I chuckle when I hear adults say "I can't draw!" If they were to look at the wonderful work done by young people and see what fearlessness can produce - they would pick up a brush themselves!

From his bio reprinted from HUTCH:

About the Artist:
Declan Hooper is a Kindergartner who would sleep with his markers if his parents would let him. His “artings” are inspired by many things: Mexican Red-Kneed Bird-Eating tarantulas, Laurie Keller’s book The Scrambled States of America, dragons, outer space, US coins, and all the ‘How to Draw” books in the library. Declan is super excited to be taking art class with his first pre-school teacher and mentor, Miss Cindy

I love his inspirations! What are you inspired by?

I know that I am inspired by Declan's ishful tree, bird and flower. : )

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I'll take a guess that the year was 1972 when my sister, Jane, shared an essay she had just read as part of a High School English class at Chelmsford High. It was by George Orwell. This essay on simplicity was, aptly, short. My eleven year old brain immediately felt a bolt of energy. I remember, to this day, where I was when I read it. I was in my bedroom, sitting at the desk which was tucked into the closet whose door was removed to make way for our "study center" in the room I shared with my twin brother, Paul.

Mr. Orwell's advice made a lot of sense to my visual-thinking brain. I didn't memorize his words or make a pledge to follow his "rules," but it did encourage me and validate my hunch that I was going in the right direction.

Less can be more.

Pictures can do a lot of heavy-lifting.

Words used in just the right measure can help simply get the point across. If you have no point to make, go into the garden and plant Morning Glory. An idea worth sharing may come.

This Orwellian-inspired thinking has traveled with me all my life and has helped my own story-crafting journey.

Simply put: Thanks, Mr. O.

Here's a nice, even simpler (ironically) recap of the essay from George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

Finding Vashti

The year was 2001. I was in a coffee shop (a stellar cafe) Mocha Java, on the corner of High St. and Eastern Ave in my hometown of Dedham. I was nestled into a favorite spot right by the bookshelf and next to the big glass window – lots of light and plenty to look at and get inspired by.

I had my watercolors going – doing some art for my new book about a young girl afraid to draw – which had a title, but the main character did not yet have a name. Suddenly, a girl appeared in front of me holding a dozen green carnations. She sold me one as a fundraiser for her school.

When I asked her which of the local schools she was raising money for, she just stood there. I realized she was not from around Dedham.

I looked closer at this nine year old girl with brown hair and big brown eyes. Her skin was the color of a cafĂ© latte – and she looked very much like the girl I had been drawing in my new book. The girl asked what I was doing and who the painting was for. I picked up on the hint that she wanted the painting. I told I was painting for her.

Her eyes opened wide.

“For me?”
“Yes, for you.”
I went to sign it to her and got as far as “To...”
“And how do you spell your name again?,” pretending that we were old friends.
Wow, I thought to myself. This is her. This is my character!
I gave her the painting. She left smiling. I saw her get into the old brown van that appeared to have traveled many miles. She was showing her painting to her mother and her little sister who began waving to me through the window.

The van drove off.

I never saw Vashti again. I wonder if I ever will?

After The Dot was published, I shared this story while visiting studnets and staff at the McKay School in Fitchburg. The principal excitedly said, "That's OUR Vashti!"

I thought that I had finally found her.

"She was picked up by the police for selling flowers downtown during a school day. Her parents picked her up and she never came back to school."

Vashti apparently is a gyspy probably crisscrossing New England or beyond. I often wonder if she ever stumbled upon The Dot. I can imagine her "connecting the dots" and pulling out that slightly worn little watercolor made in a little coffee shop all those years ago.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Losing A Tree

I am in New York City attending BEA - Book Expo America. I was here to sign two books: The North Star (Candlewick Press) and Tess's Tree (Harper Collins).

On Friday I checked my voice mail messages and heard one that that shook me... it was made from the cell phone of my friend, Gretchen who I knew as Gari ever since we met 20 years ago in California, but it was Gari's cousin. Her message explained that Gari had passed away last week. She had just celebrated her 43rd birthday. She left a number to call for more information about a service which will be held in two weeks time.

I'm glad my brother, Paul, was with me. The news struck me hard.

It occurred to me, as the weekend unfolded, that the two books I was signing were soothing signals from the universe.

"The North Star", a book about a young boy on an increasingly challenged journey who lands in a deep swamp. Gari struggled most of her adult life with alcohol. I learned last night that she died from cirrhosis to the liver. When I first met her, she was beautiful, funny, adventurous, but the swamp pulled her into a dark place. We lived on different coasts, but we often chatted, especially when things were falling a part for Gari, but I felt good to be a part of her "constellation" - cheering her along the journey. I sit here wondering what more I could have done. I know that addiction has a grip from the inside, but I also know that those around a person struggling can help shine some light on which way to go.

The other book I was signing was "Tess's Tree." A book about loss. A little girl loses her favorite tree to a storm and she grieves deeply. The way the family copes is to have a service for the tree. Family and friends gather in the yard where the tree had stood. They each share memories of the tree and what it meant to them. It eased Tess's heart to see so much love for one tree. Her tree.

I "connected the dots" - the "cosmic dots" and realized that both of these books were speaking to me... at the perfect moment. The power of story to help us understand the mysteries of life, to help us cope, to ease our hearts is a gift we can give each other and ourselves.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Make Way for the Mayor: There's a New Artist in Town

This morning, my twin brother, Paul, and I had wonderful breakfast with the Mayor of Boston, Tom Menino - a stone's throw from the golden dome of the State House and City Hall.

We spent quite awhile talking about the city, about literacy, FableVision's projects and mission, and how we can infuse creativity and innovation into the city's neighborhoods, we decided to get creative at the table.

I pulled out paper and watercolors and ask the Mayor to draw with me. I loved the look on his face! He smiled and, being a good sport, he bravely picked up the pen. He paused. I suggested he draw a teacup and reminded him it only needed to be "teacup-ish." With a few confident lines, he conjured the image posted above. I splashed a bit of watercolor around it. I think it looks like a bronze statue which would be nice company with the Make Way for Ducklings statue in the Boston Gardens!

I told the Mayor that creating art reduces stress and that it allows new ideas to flow freely. The way that Mr. Menino took to drawing was like a 'duck to water". 

In the coming months, the City of Boston may have one of the most relaxed and creative mayors in the country!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Stellar Proverb: Nulla dies sine linea.

My friend, John Harris, sent me this Latin Proverb.

He knew that I would love it! My work is very much about "making your mark." It is a rare day that I do not make a line. Whether a drawing or words, I have made a promise to myself not to close my eyes at night before at least making one mark in my journal. I fell asleep one evening doing that and awoke to my one mark having turned into one big dot from my bleeding marker. That was, in fact, the inspiration for my book The Dot.

So, make your line! Whether your line is a word or a drawing, try to weave a few into each of your days. You can also make a dot. That counts, but please, sign it!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

7 Questions: An Interview by Julie Everett: Question 1

These are the rough color sketches that were my first attempt at getting my story "The Dot" out of my head and onto paper. If you know the book, you'll see I stuck pretty close to both art and text.

The following is the first question from a Q&A prompted by creative teacher extraordinaire, Julie Everett of Nebraska. I responded while in Bologna, Italy. I'll be sharing the questions and answers in my blog over the next week or so.
So... here goes:

1) Where did you
get the idea for The Dot?

Well, the answer to that one is actually in two parts.

I think the phrase “I can’t draw” - which I have heard countless times – has always surprised me – and has inspired me. My immediate response is “You just haven’t hung out with ME long enough!” I think that is what goes through any teachers or coaches mind when they hear “I can’t....” It just means we have to double up on some creative ways to get there.

So the theme had been brewing for years.

The catalyst for The Dot book was a mark I made in my journal. I make a habit of drawing and writing – as well as reading – before I go to sleep at night. Like many of us do after a long day, I can only get a few sentences read, a few words written or -- the very beginning of a drawing created before I have drifted off into sleep.

This one particular eve --back in 2001- in my 200 year old home in Dedham, MA, I set marker to paper and promptly feel to sleep. My Extra Fine Sanford Sharpie made contact with the white paper and began to drink in, ever so slowly, the ink. When I awoke perhaps an hour or so later, I was startled to see what my marker had left behind. A dot! A big black dot! I set the journal to one side and turned off the lamp.

Well, in the light of day, as the morning sun streamed through the windows falling upon my still-opened journal, I saw the dot.

It struck me that this was no ordinary dot.

It was mighty impressive.

What had started out as an unintentional “mistake” had ended up being a breathtaking dot! I quickly grabbed my marker and wrote “The Dot” above the dot and below I wrote “by Peter H. Reynolds.” I leaned it on my mantle above the fireplace and looked at it as the weeks went by and the story of a brave girl who makes an unexpected dot came in to focus.

The mission had found its story. The Dot was born!

The book was published by Candlewick Press in 2003.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Above and Below

This time last week - I was sitting in a cafe in Bologna, Italy.

It was one of the cafes facing a great plaza - called Piazza Maggiore - filled with people.

I had a rare stretch of time where I just sat soaking in the scenery. Eventually, I looked up. There above me was a stunning ceiling. You'll see the photo I snapped with my iPhone. To me, it looks more like a painting than a photo! How many people pass beneath it without looking up and marveling?

I then looked down and snapped a photo of the ground. Big granite slabs polished smooth. The textured stone reflecting the sun made the stone seem alive.

I am inspired to keep looking up, looking down, - savoring the hidden treasures hiding beneath our feet and above our heads.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another Stellar Day

Greetings from Bologna! Another beautiful - yes, stellar - day here in Italy! Just a bit further up on Independenza Ave you will find my hotel, The Metropolitan. Well, not MY hotel. My home for 5 days! If you are ever looking for a place to stay - you'll be very happy here.

I had dinner last night with Marinella Barigazzi, a wonderful author here in Italy, who also translated a few of my books into Italian. She did not get a credit for her work in "Il Punto," (The Dot) but hopefully in the next edition the publisher will correct that. I noticed she gets credit though on certain sites selling the book like -- this one - IBS.IT. She showed me her newest book, in fact - gave me a signed copy - of (roughly translated) "I Wonder" - a lovely book about a boy on a train seeing wonderful things that get his mind and heart racing. I a m a big fan of stories about the "journey." We spoke about FableVision's new story media division which is ramping up and looking for great published stories to animate and distribute. Hopefully, "I Wonder" will be part of our collection. Our goal is to gather the best, most thoughful and though-provoking children's and family stories from around the world and to share that wisdom with others.

I'm off to explore the Bologna Children's Book Fair today and tomorrow. Lots of meetings with publishers from around the world. I will be meeting up with my pals at Pippin Properties (my agents in NYC) for dinner. There's a party hosted by Egmont which is on my list, but I have to reserve some energy for a few book projects on my plate! I am reserving all day Wednesday to sketch, ink and paint in the Italian sunshine!

Wishing you a stellar day!

i vostri amici,

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Stellar Cafe: Bologna

I realize that I have never labeled any of my blogs "A Stellar Cafe" despite my blog being CALLED The Stellar Cafe. Well, here I sit in one of those stellar cafes.... here in Bologna, Italy. I am attending the Children's Book Fair once again. Part industry re-con trip and part "personal battery" recharge trip. It is already working. I arrived yesterday and slept from noon until midnight... and then unpacked - and slept another seven hours. I rarely sleep six a night. My body soaked it in like a dry sponge. As Shakespeare wrote:
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast..."
I try to build in one of these recharge days into my trips so that I can begin the actual trip the next day - refreshed.

I had a great cafe session today - and savored the cappuccino... noticing that in Italy they drink small amounts and take their time with them. I think they might be flabbergasted at the "Grande Tall" cafe lattes consumed by USA coffee drinkers. (Better ask for "cafe latte" in Italy - if you ask for just a latte you will be served hot milk!)

And coffee to go? In big paper cups? I have not seen it here. I imagine they'd look at you like you're a bit crazy - which I think we are in the USA. We've gone nuts.

The greed for things we don't need - or things that don't even exist (look at the banking industry buying and trading people's money in things that did not exist!) - it feeds us, stuffs us, but I am sure it is not nourishing us.

We need to slow it down.
Do more with less. Sip slowly.
Feast on conversation.
Feast on the sight of a cup of coffee
gleaming in the sun
in a stellar cafe.

Ciao for now,

Bologna, Italy 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Digital Souvenirs

I love our family bookshop. It seems to have special oxygen that makes hearts beat slower, blood pressure drop, people smile. This corner, at The Blue Bunny, is filled with toys and art supplies. The art supplies are invitations for everyone to become brave people who know how to express themselves - and yes, and to draw, paint, write and read. The toys are, upon closer inspection, quite often group games or projects that encourage children to make things. Part of our mission is to help balance out a world that seems to have gone sedentary and screen-centric a worl dtheat seems to be forgetting how to make things (furniture, clothing, art, poetry), although with the current economy - we are seeing a trend toward "less is more." We have a classic Blue Bunny shirt with the "less is more" mantra!

The Blue Bunny is a stellar place in my universe.

For the first time though in my many years, I have begun to wonder what the fate is of, not only independent book stores, but of books, board games, even art supplies. The pen. I read a great article on the BBC website exploring the disappearance of handwriting. Think about it. Even signing our names is becoming less and less required. Many credit cards are beginning to just require a swipe. The BBC asked readers to submit a sample of handwriting. I did - to have mine on record for the historians. I tried to add it here, but Blogger is not cooperating! Could it be part of the handwriting-purge conspiracy? I'll try again later when they're not looking!

Back to my beloved books - not just the ones I write and illustrate - but all books. I am seeing the digital publishing revolution happening. Newspapers are some of the first victims. Readership down - economy down - there go the readers - there goes advertising. The economics won't support it.m (If everyone committed to buying the daily paper again - we might save the newspaper?)

Once the big ones go - so too will the small ones. I have talked to the owner of a small independent local newspaper. He explained that they could only keep it financially viable to "stay in the game" by "riding the coat tails" of the bigger presses who pay for the machines and allow paper being bought in bulk.

Our bookshop is currently doing well. Mostly because of the valiant efforts of our amazing staff. They'll be there as long as there are customers who appreciate the printed page. The printed page. How many people are using their printers to print out webpages?

We are, in a sense, selling data that could be - and will be - are actually are beginning to be displayed digitally - but also making them available in these handy, nicely-labeled, easy-to-transport things called "books." And unlike a bookmarked webpage, the data can be colorfully displayed on a physical shelf.

Little physical "digital" souvenirs.

I had this sudden thought about the future.

The year: 2047.

The 50th Anniversary bash for The Blue Bunny Book & Toy Shop.

Paul and Peter Reynolds glide in on their HoverChairs.

Cheers from the crowd of humans, robots, robotic animals and the sea of holographic visitors blurring together.

One young boy who had pushed to the front to see why the floating old men were getting such attention, something he rather fancied himself the expert in.

"Who are they?" he queried his Cyber-Nanny.

"They're the Reynolds brothers... They're run this souvenir shop."

"What's a soo-va-near?"

"Well, its something to remember something by. According to my data files, humans once loved their internet made into paper souvenirs. They would print the pages onto the pulp made of trees and bind them into pages."


"Well, there are still people who collect these souvenirs. You've seen one I am sure. Before schools disappeared, there was one in a glass case at the middle school."

The boy was suddenly interested by one of the wrinkled twins throwing candy to the crowd.

The boy reached up and grabbed one of the flying treats.

It wasn't candy. It was a miniature paint set.

"I'll explain what that is later," his CyberNanny said, intercepting his thought. "Listen up. They're speaking."

The twins began reading one of these books. The crowd hushed.

"I know this story! I heard it in the Holograph Tube. Look! They've stuck it in one of those 'sooh-va-nears!"

After the event, the boy raced to their family's horse and buggy which was waiting for them in front of the The Blue Bunny, a souvenir tucked beneath his arm. The crowd poured from the store and there was a thunderous sound of excited voices and horses whinnying as they mounted their steeds to head home.

The twins hovered out of the store on their weird craft. They rarely took it out for a spin as they wanted to preserve this antique HoverChair.

"You think they'll ever bring back the HoverChair?"

"With energy credits skyrocketing these days... well, who knows?" shared the CyberNanny who had a strange feeling that her days were numbered.

."Sometimes we remember the things shouldn't forget," she shared quietly.

The boy wasn't listening. He was lost in his book.

"And simetimes we don't." •

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I recently had the honor to read some recent work by the British poet. Joanna Curtiss from an unpublished manuscript. It is very inspiring to experience work fresh from a pen. Words arranged in ways I have never seen. Ideas unleashed from a mind - and set down on paper. And to be one of the first on the planet to bear witness to it.  Her words inspired me to open my journals and take a read of poems I have rarely shared. I like reading my unpolished work. Unedited. With words scribbled as fast as my mind could conjure them up! 

It is my hope that my published work has this freshness and energy.   

The Stellar Pause

I'm back. After a blog-pause. I had a bunch of friends wondering why I had stopped. January was a month so packed with events - trip to London and to DC for the Inauguration being the big pieces. I am not traveling all of February! A pause! A wonderful pause in my journey. These "between" moments are great times to create. My book, So Few of Me, is dedicated to that thought. Hope you take some time just for yourself. To think. To rest. To dream.