Drop and Doodle

This week I'm hanging out at with Heather at Cool Progeny. My official title is guest doodler. Pretty impressive, don't you think? Heather has started a new project which I wholly endorse. Drop Everything and Doodle is a challenge to spend a few minutes each week drawing with your kids. This is a moment to share and connect and just be silly. And, if you're feeling brave, please share your doodles on instagram or twitter with #dropanddoodle.

Each week Heather will be giving a one word prompt. This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, the prompt is "love." So grab those markers, or crayons, or pencils and get to it!

PrestoBingo Colors Educational App is Here!

Today’s the big day! We are launching our new children’s educational app on the app store — PrestoBingo Colors!

Our studio has been developing this app for over a year. Designing, drawing, coding, testing and re-testing and it’s finally ready. The colors are divided into 3 levels. If your little one is just beginning to learn colors, you can set the app to level one and cover the basics: black, blue, brown, gray, green, orange, pink, purple, red, white and yellow. Level two covers intermediate colors like turquoise, lavender and peach. And, just in case that’s not challenging enough, you can check out level three for super-advanced color. You do know what loden is, right? How about vermillion and chartreuse?

We hope you enjoy our app. You can download it from the app store here. Read more about our app projects on the PrestoBingo website, including our first app PrestoBingo Shapes


Stop Motion Project (introducing Mr. Sea Horse)

Animation is a recent obsession of my son's. It is entirely possible that he's found a loophole in the limited screen-time rule. He's using my iPhone to make these, and I'm planning on moving him over to my iPad, which admittedly is an even larger screen.

But when I watch what he's doing, I can't help but love it. He's drawing. He's telling stories. He's taking hundreds of pictures and so patiently moving his drawings bit by bit. He's even editing and adding sound. Here is his first story:

And the story continues...

I'm curious to see how far this project will go. If you would like to try your own, the app we are using is Stop Motion Studio.  I highly recommend it. It's a free app, with add-ons you can purchase if you need them. We also attached my iPhone to a tripod with this tripod mount. All we need now is better lighting and a stable work table and he will have a pretty decent animation studio.

So good, in fact, that I might just use it myself.

Foe: an Installation by Wayne White

WHAT: a cardboard sculpture installation by Wayne White
WHERE: Marketview Arts, York College Gallery (3rd floor) 37 W. Philadelphia Street, York PA
WHEN: April 4 - May 20, 2014, Monday through Saturday, 10am-4pm

We took a quick road trip to York, PA this weekend to see an exhibit by the artist Wayne White. Wayne White is best known for his work as a puppeteer and set designer for Pee Wee's Playhouse. Remember that show? He also art-directed Peter Gabriel’s music video "Big Time." I didn’t know his name at the time, but as an art student in college, I saw his work everywhere, and it was very influential to me. 


The focus of the show is the Civil War. White chose this topic to tie into York’s local history and specifically the invasion of York by General Jubal Early and his Confederate soldiers. The scale and detail of this show is incredible. Cubist-inspired figures loom 20 feet above. 

This installation

And yet the simplest details were equally entertaining. 


A few of the sculptures are actually giant puppets, with ropes to pull that control their movement.


This show has to be one of the best gallery shows I have seen in a long time. It’s not one to miss and I am sure my entire family would agree. That might be what I loved best about the show. It’s so accessible, yet smart. It practically begs you to start playing with shapes and forms. It left us itching to empty the recycling bin and see what we could make. 


A Tiny Healthcare Rant, and a Tip

I've been watching our healthcare costs skyrocket. Have you? I know some of these changes are for the good, and I'm trying to just wait out the chaos. We're self-employed, and therefore have always been self-insured. Our insurance has more than doubled in the last two years. Now I've realized there is a new thing I need to watch – the cost of prescription medicines. I always thought that they cost what they cost. Maybe that was naive of me. I knew my prescription card probably gave me a bit of a discount, but for the most part I assumed we were all on a semi-even playing field. 

We are not.

My kids have mild seasonal allergies. Nothing big. But recently I've been shopping around. Long story short, today I held two bottles of the same medicine in my hands. Same brand, same dosage, same store, same everything. One cost $14.00. One cost $125.00. The pharmacist seemed only slightly surprised which makes me think this happens all the time. 

Shop around. The website I used was goodrx.com. I highly recommend it. When I saw the crazy-high price today, I pulled out my phone, showed the pharmacist the price I wanted and it was fixed in a jiffy. My question? If it costs less than $14.00 to make this drug, where does all the extra money go?


Spur Gallery Presents – Eureka!

What: Gallery Opening of Eureka! Impractical Solutions
Where: Spur Gallery, 
3504 Ash Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
When: April 26, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

You may know that both Dave and I regularly teach classes at MICA. Dave’s class this semester is a grad-level class on the illustrated poster. This show is designed and installed by his class. So stop by, see some great art, and chat with the illustrators and designers. Details on the show are posted below:

Illustration by Kevin Valente

Illustration by Kevin Valente

Eureka! Impractical Solutions

How does hair grow? Why do boats float? Where do dreams come from?

The answers might surprise you.

Designers and creative professionals approach problem-solving in unconventional ways. In Eureka!, MICA graduate illustrators and designers use impractical and unfettered thinking to create posters that propose new solutions to old questions.

Featuring the work of Yu Chen, Sarah Claggett, Jasu Hu, Sarah Jacoby, Winnie Kuo, Jackie Littman, Sally Maier, Valleria Molinari, Shiva Nallperumal, Sara Shahabi, Iris Sprague, Kevin Valente, Lolo Zhang, and guided by David Plunkert.

Join us for the opening reception at the Spur Gallery on Saturday, April 26, 6:30 - 8:30 pm. Free and open to the public.

Jeremy Holmes, Children's Book Illustrator


When Jeremy Holmes’ first book, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly came out I thought it was ground-breaking. How could something so creepy yet beautiful get published for children? It is a brilliant re-telling of a classic story, and definitely worth adding to your bookshelf.

I've been paying attention to his work ever since, and recently invited him to come to MICA to discuss his process with my students. He brought tons of printed books and original drawings and sketches.

Jeremy is a designer turned illustrator. His sense of type merges so beautifully with his illustrations. The amount of time he puts into each piece, especially the newer ones, is mind-boggling. I love the result. Jeremy might be one of the hardest working illustrators I know. But his work is smart too, which is a pretty great combination.

If you have an older reader, check out The Templeton Twins, written by Ellis Weiner and illustrated by Jeremy. This series follows John and Abigail Templeton, twins with a tendency for adventure who get kidnapped by... wait for it... a set of twins.


We even got a look at the original art for his new book which just hit the bookstores in January – Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems, by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian.


Seeing his pencil drawings on vellum was inspiring. The coloring process was intense too, with many variations, but I think you'll agree that the result was completely worth it.


Illustrations for the New York Times

I've been illustrating a lot of stories lately for the New York Times column, "18 and Under." Pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass writes about a wide range of kid topics – from baby on up to college. Sometimes the topics are a bit challenging (how do you illustrate a story about kids and constipation?), but I admit that the editorial geek in me loves solving the puzzle. So here's a roundup:

This is the most recent one, for a story about how roommates can affect your college-aged child. I got to draw a strangely neat dorm room inside two gigantic heads. What could be better?


And this illustration was for a story about manners (or lack thereof) in the doctor's office. I put a baby doll in it, which I think is pretty trite for an illustration on kids, but it's okay because I pulled it's head off.


Best title ever – "To Smoosh Peas is to Learn." This story is about how babies learn by touching, smearing and feeling their food.


Traveling with kids to exotic places. What could go wrong?


This story is about how to handle shyness with kids. I can totally relate. As a kid I felt painfully shy, and I see the same tendency in my daughter. But my son – not a shy bone in his body. I think he's the kid in front.


 And back to older kids, this story was about getting your kids ready to take care of their health needs as they head off to college. Yep, we'll be there in just a few years when our oldest graduates high school.


Okay, here it is – constipation and kids. Sometimes, you just have to keep drawing, and drawing, and drawing until you figure it out.




Snow Fort!

I think it's safe to say that every parent in the Baltimore area is collectively tired of snow, right? It feels like ages since any of my kids went to a full week of school and although the driveways and roads are fairly clear now, I don't think we will be seeing the grass any time soon.

In the plus column, this is amazing packing snow. Everytime I check my Facebook feed it seems to be full of creative snow sculptures (Apparently I have rather creative Facebook friends). 

I can take no credit for the snowfort that appeared in our front yard. It kept Dave and the kids (mostly Jacob) busy for hours. They packed snow into plastic bins to form the blocks. 


The roof proved to be a little challenging, but it's rather sturdy for now. 


And don't forget furniture. They added a chair, table and even a bed that has a little snow pillow. 


These two have moved in. I'll miss them, but hopefully they will visit soon.

Making Soap, sort of...


"Making soap" isn't really accurate for this project, but "melting and reforming soap" just isn't a catchy title. So here we go.

These soaps made great holiday gifts this year. They were incredibly easy to make, not expensive, and definitely not messy. Afterall, how hard is it to clean up soap?

The variations on this could be endless, so experiment and have fun.

You will need:

Higher temperature glycerin soap base
Lower temperature white soap base
Scented oil
Soap molds and/or empty cardboard juice cartons with the top cut off
Soap cutter or sharp kitchen knife
Glass measuring cup

1. Start by making the colored cubes. Microwave higher temperature glycerin soap on high, in a glass measuring cup. Microwave until it becomes liquid. Soap melts really quickly, so keep constant watch on it.

2. Add colorant and stir. We used a liquid colorant. Feel free to mix the colors as you like. I'll take any excuse to work in a little lesson on color theory.

3. Add scented oil and stir.

4. Pour into soap molds or carton. Let cool for 30 minutes or until set.


5. Remove soap from mold or carton and chop into 1/2 inch cubes. Cutting the soap is extremely rewarding. I had to fight for a turn. Afterwards I handed the soap cutter back to the kids. They were able to manage just fine, but you may need to supervise.


6. Melt lower temperature white soap. You could add more scent or colorant here too.

7. Now combine the cubes with the soap base. Drop glycerin cubes into carton while at the same time pouring in the white soap until the cubes are just barely covered. It helps to have two people working on this at the same time. Let set until firm. Peel away carton and cut into bars. All done!


Beyond Words: The Artistry of Illustrated Children’s Books

WHAT: Exhibit of original children's book artwork

WHERE: McDaniel College, Rice Gallery

WHEN: January 27 - March 6, 2014


Chris Raschka: "Snuggling" from "A Ball for Daisy," 11 x 11"

Chris Raschka: "Snuggling" from "A Ball for Daisy," 11 x 11"

I know I've spent hours, pouring over picture books while reading to my kids, but if you know me at all, you know I enjoy a good picture book whether or not I have the excuse of reading to a kid.  

I can't wait to see this upcoming show at McDaniel College. It includes 35 pieces of original art curated by Robert Lemieux. The list of artists, many of whom are Caldecott Medal and Caldecott Honor recipients is impressive and includes many of my favorites:

Adrienne Adams

Mary Azarian

Jessica Boehman
Kathryn Brown
Marcia Brown

Ashley Bryan
Eric Carle
Raul Colon
Richard Cuffari
Tomie dePaolo
Tony DiTerlizzi
Jules Feiffer
Tibor Gergely
Mordicai Gerstein
Hardie Gramatky
Catherine Greenaway
Karla Gudeon
Ezra Jack Keats
E.B. Lewis
Petra Mathers
Barbara McClintock
Willy Pogany
Jerry Pinkney
Alice Provensen
Chris Raschka
Charles Santore
Simms Taback
Neil Waldman
David Wiesner
Mo Willems
Paul O. Zelinsky

For more information, visit the McDaniel College website or call 410-857-2595.

Calder’s Circus

Alexander Calder, the famous American sculptor, created a tiny circus, complete with lions, sword swallowers and acrobats from 1926-31. The tiny performers were sculpted out of fabric, wire and other materials. They danced, and spun, and jumped from trapeze to trapeze as Calder moved them around the stage. Calder performed The Circus for decades and it traveled back and forth from Paris to the United States. The circus and performers are now housed in the Whitney Museum, having been carefully restored and preserved.

I imagine that over the years, the performances evolved quite a bit. At the time of the restoration, there were signs of wear and tear. Patches, upon patches. So I like to think that even if the original performers stayed basically the same, the performance grew and shifted, as things do.

Fortunately, a few videos of Calder performing his circus exist, of the later years.

I love watching him perform. In some versions you can see his wife in the background, putting up with her husband's obsession. I feel her pain. But really, Calder is amazing.

Sooo.... a recent assignment, for my grad students, was to create a performer for Calder's Circus. Any type of creature was up for grabs. They were giving a short list of materials (fabric, string, wire, feathers, paper, etc) and a tight deadline (I love a tight deadline). Here is what they came up with.

My students came up with some pretty awesome solutions, but I think this could be a great project for kids too. Limit the materials, give a few easy ideas for how to apply movement, and let them go wild...

Catching Up

I feel like I've been so immersed in kid-related projects lately, that I've completely neglected mentioning some of them here. I'm going to take a moment to catch up and tell you all what I've been up to.

Every semester, for the last 4 years, I've taught at class at Maryland Institute College of Art. I love my day each week at MICA. My students amaze me. I admit I teach there for some purely selfish reasons. I learn so much from my students, although I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be the other way around.

This semester, I decided to teach something different – a class on Markets for Children for the graduate Illustration Practice program. I'm going to post just a few of the things that have been happening with the class.


Also, on the horizon are some fun projects at the studio that I hope I can share in more detail soon. A new app is coming and a new publishing project that I can't wait to share!




Mummies of the World


I stopped by the Maryland Science Center this morning to preview their new exhibition, Mummies of the World. My younger daughter is mummy-obsessed, which might be a little unique for an 8 year-old girl. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the source of the attraction – history, science, the general creep-factor? In any case, this show is a must-see for our whole family.

By the way, I put the nice Egyptian art at the top of this post. If you don't want to see what the mummies look like, don't scroll down. 


On the other hand, I do think some kids might be frightened by this show. Almost all of the 40+ mummies on display are not wrapped. You can see details that are amazingly well-preserved. Fingers, toes, a tattoo, and even eyelashes. And these are very real people. They are presented respectfully, but very up-close and at times it feels a little intimate. There are stories to accompany the mummies, like the Orlovits family – Michael, Veronica and their son Johannes. They were part of a group of mummies found in a long forgotten crypt in Vac, Hungary, complete with name cards. I met with “mummyologist” Heather Gill-Frerking, a biological anthropologist and she describes the mummies as “adorable,” as does my sweet Emma, so maybe it is all in the eye of the beholder. I like Dr. Gill-Frerking’s take on bringing kids. “People know their kids. They know what they like.” She adds, “I can’t tell you how many nose prints we clean off the glasses.”


There is a lot to learn here. How are mummies made? How did these people live? What diseases did they have? What can we learn from their DNA? So many things.

My big lesson? How bog bodies are made. Emma is fascinated by bog bodies and Dr. Gill-Frerking is an expert. According to Dr. Gill-Frerking, bogs are very good for preserving skin, and fur, and fabric, but terrible for bones. More water actually preserves the bodies better. Bogs are acidic so they leach the minerals from the bone. The bone gets very soft and can be squished flat by the weight of the overlying peat. See, you learn something new every day.

The show opens to the public September 28, 2013 and runs until January 20, 2014.

Running on the NCR Trail

I am not a runner. But this summer, one of my favorite places to be was the NCR trail. And somehow (actually I know exactly how) I ended up spending a fair amount of time running on the trail. 


The Northern Central Railroad Trail extends 20 miles from Ashland Road in Hunt Valley to the Pennsylvania state line. It then continues in Pennsylvania as the York County Heritage Trail. It is up to 10 feet wide and passes through some absolutely beautiful Maryland landscape. A lot of it runs along the Gunpowder River, through shady forest. You might pass people on innertubes, or bikes, or even horses. Whatever works.


My daughter started Cross Country this year. Yep. We've hit high school, and suddenly so much has shifted. We have limited places to run nearby, and I wanted to make her summer practice not quite so boring. Personally, I can kind of embrace the boredom of running. I like that mindless time to not be anywhere. To turn off. But isn't it always nicer with amazing scenery? Yes.


So the trail became part of our morning routine. I took all of the kids at first, and then, as the distances grew, just her. She ran up ahead, but I was never far away. So if she ran 3 miles, I could sneak by with 2 and really be just a half mile away at any given point, right? But the miles grew, and soon I was at 4 (with her at 5). And then she went away to camp. I didn't see her for 2 weeks. You know what happened? I ran anyway. I ran in the rain. And it was amazing.

She came home. Cross country practice started and it meant that she would be running with the team instead of me. Last Saturday I ran 5 miles, which may not be that far, but it's a personal best for me. It was cool and beautiful and perfect, and I think I just might keep running.

So Grown Up

How fast they grow. Roughly nine weeks old and they are more chicken than chick now. They still haven't traded their sweet little peeps for grown-up chicken sounds, and the combs on the Barred Rocks are only just now starting to grow, but in every other way, they look like mini-versions of their soon-to-be adult selves.

Our white hen, named Duck, has become a favorite. Although it might just be because we can't tell the other two, Helen and Carol, apart from each other. 


I've had to clip their wings, because they have flown the coop more than a few times. It's helped, but they still manage to escape periodically. I'm hoping as they get bigger, they won't be able to make the height of the fence. Bad chicken. 


They are so fun to watch. I love how they tip their beaks up when they drink.


There is something so dinosaur about them. 


Pretty duck. She's our Easter Egger and I'm really hoping for blue eggs.


The older hens have finally accepted that they have new coop-mates. I can't say that they've been very welcoming, but they tolerate the newcomers well enough.


Molassy is still the kids' favorite. With that little bunny tail, I completely understand.


Egg production has not been as good as I had hoped. I never expected the Silkie to lay much, but actually she's done alright. She lays these tiny little eggs, on a fairly regular basis. 

I will admit I've done a few things wrong. The biggest mistake was letting my hens stay broody. We've learned a lot about chickens this year. Hens lay an egg most days. After they have layed a bunch (a clutch) of eggs, they may "go broody," meaning they decide to sit on them for 3 weeks until the eggs hatch. They will only get off the nest once or twice a day. They fluff up really big if you try to move them. They might peck and growl if you try to pick them up and most annoyingly they don't lay any eggs. A few weeks after the chicks hatch, they go back to normal. Broodiness happens whether or not there is a rooster. And it happens with some breeds more than others. In our case, we don't have a rooster, so the eggs were not fertilized. We kept removing the eggs (despite the pecks), but even if there were no eggs, and no hope of chicks, the chickens would sit. 


So first Lily went broody. As soon as she was done, Hazel went broody. Weeks went by and Hazel didn't seem to be getting back to normal. She sat, she growled, she sat some more. I would take her off the nest to make sure she got some food. She would eat a little and go right back on the nest. 

To make matters worse, Molassy went broody too, always trying to be like the big hens. As I looked at Hazel, I noticed that her comb was getting pale, a sign that she was getting weak. It was time to do something.

There are a number of ways to break a broody hen, but the main goal is to cool their body temperature down a little. I started slipping freezer packs into their nesting boxes covered by a few pine shavings. We gave them cool baths in the wheelbarrow daily (I admit that was a little fun). And we closed off the nesting boxes for parts of the day to force them out in the yard.

After three days, they were coming out of it. Hazel's comb went back to its normal floppy bright red.


Next chicken crisis? It's molting time. Our yard looks like there was a huge pillow fight, or maybe more like a chicken exploded, but that's okay. They will be back to normal soon and we will have more eggs than we can handle, right Ladies?


Earth Treks


Hey, come down from there...

They never listen.

We went to Earth Treks for a birthday party. I think I have been to about a million-bagillion birthday parties, but this place is a bit different beacause it's a good challenge for a wide range of ages. My 8-year-olds got to join in the fun, even though this was a 14-year-old party. It took a little coaxing, but halfway through the party, my little ones made it to the top. The staff knew just how much to push. And my kids were so, so, proud of themselves for making it all the way.


Look at her go! She didn't make it very far the first couple of times. Then she took a break and sat with me for a while. I could tell she was getting her nerve up. Then boom, all the way to the top.

Funny to see how different their processes are. My little guy was determined. He got back in line and climbed again and again and again until he made it. A tiny bit farther each time and at last, sweet success.


Meanwhile, the older kids, who were able to climb up to the top right away, found different challenges. Some of the climbing paths were a bit more difficult. So if you thought you were going to climb 90 degrees straight up, think again. They had to figure out ways to climb walls that tilted out. Not easy.

All I can say is, thank goodness for safety harnesses. Kids, go have fun.


Earth Treks

1930 Greenspring Drive

Timonium, MD 21093


Map it


Picking Berries at Hybridoma Organic Fruit Farm


This morning was cool and crisp and we were feeling pretty lucky as we marched off to pick blueberries. Hybridoma Farm opened its doors to the public for berry picking in 2011. This morning, the owner and farmer, Robert, greeted us at the berry stand, pointed us to the blueberries and handed us all buckets. As he sent us off, he apologized for the weeds around the bushes, but this is a certified organic farm and I take the occasional weed as evidence that this farm is the real deal. By the way, there aren't a lot of weeds. It's really nicely weeded and mowed, so we got right to work.


Our main focus today was blueberries, but there are other berries here too. Black raspberries were available in smaller quantities, and red raspberries will be coming soon. There were even some yellow raspberries and gooseberries coming later in the season.


My kids are completely up for the task of filling all of our buckets. But we stopped after about 10 pounds. Of course, I had to promise them a return trip. I don't think that will be a problem.


Now, what do we do with all these blueberries? First on the list was to eat a big bowl, plain. Then the kids made a really good cobbler that we spooned over ice cream. The remainders will be eaten tomorrow, or frozen for the winter. Maybe we can fill the entire freezer and have cobbler all year long. I'm for it. Kids, get back in the car. 

[Map it]

Hybridoma Organic Fruit Farm

13734 Baldwin Mill Rd

Baldwin, MD 


Summer, Summer, Summer!

The beginning of summer is always such a good time to plan. Not big things, just other things. Things that always seem to slip by. Spring is fading (as usual, too quickly). I am impressed, though with our bumper crop of peas. I almost let them get ahead of me.


This year, my daughter has been obsessed with birds. Her current plan is to study ornithology at Cornell. Yes, Cornell, and yes, we are saving. Maybe a scholarship will work out, right? But in the meantime, her obsession has made her, and by default me, super-aware of some of the nests that are appearing around our property. Of course, there have been many nests over the nine years we have lived here, but I have been aware of exactly none of them. Now there are three that we are/were watching: the mourning dove nest in the honeysuckle, the house wren in the birdhouse and...


there is a carolina wren nest in the pine shavings bag on our deck. I need those pine shavings for the chicken coop, but it's not going to happen. Pretty speckled eggs have claimed the bag, so I will have to wait, and maybe even buy another bag for the chicken coop.

Now onto summer plans. I've lined up the regular camps and classes for the kids, and a few new things to try. But here are my "others." 

1. Visit Fort McHenry. I'm embarrassed that I never have, even though I have lived in and around Baltimore for the last 24 years.

2. Buy a new violin for my daughter. She has moved beyond her current violin, not in size, but in quality, which kind of makes me sad. Buying a new violin apparently requires a trip to Bethesda to the best violin shop around. While we are there, there must be something else to do or see in Bethesda, but what? Suggestions?

3. Spend more time in our very own backyard. Our property backs up to a small stream. Last weekend we walked down to the stream with our neighbors and I felt like I was walking through a tropical rainforest. So lush and beautiful. We really are fortunate to have this place and yet I rarely go down to the water. I always have an excuse. Something glamorous like "too much laundry to fold," or "I'm working." Both of these are universally true, but I need to make some time.

4. Make art with the kids. You would think that would be a daily event around here, right? My friend Jen Cooper, over at Classic Play is teaming up with  Lulu the BakerAlexandra Hedin and MJ from Pars Caeli to post crafts, games and party ideas all summer long. I will be checking in. I promise.

5. Plant as much as I weed. I spend a huge amount of time every spring weeding. It's a pointless activity and I'm not quite sure why I bother. If I don't plant anything in that spot, weeds will be back in the blink of an eye. I'm only stalling nature. My new plan is to crowd out the bad with the good. Now I have the perfect excuse for more trips to my favorite nursery

6. Eat more tuna tartare. We order it at the nearby sushi restaurant whenever we go there and it probably takes all of 5 minutes to throw together. Why have I never done this at home?

So that's my rather small summer list. I am a firm believer that you can overplan summer and no one wants to do that.

I'd love to hear what's on your summer list!