Friday, November 7, 2014




Welcome to Poetry Friday. I'm sharing one haiku today. Click over to  Diane, Queen of Haiku, at Random Noodling for lots more poetry and inspiration.

This fall we took in the Bernard Langlais retrospective exhibit at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine. My husband took lots of photos.

 Langlais dotted his Maine property with fantastic animals created from any kind of wood he could find. The animal sculptures delighted me and inspired this haiku.


lions, tigers, bears

a wooden menagerie

barnyard fun - oh my!

I love writing from museum experiences. Though I wouldn’t exactly call this an ekphrastic haiku! Fun, though.

Langlais’ sculptures are placed throughout Maine on an art trail, and a preserve is being created on his property in Cushing.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Imani is the tiniest girl in her village. The children tease her and tell she'll never amount to anything. But Imani's mother tells her stories about characters in Maasai mythology who accomplish impossible things. Imani begins to believe she can accomplish something great.

Thanks for stopping by to catch this interview with Hazel Mitchell,
illustrator of IMANI’S MOON by Janay Brown-Wood, a 

Welcome, Hazel! I’m delighted to host one of the blog tour stops for your stunning new book. Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island has generously provided a copy of Imani’s Moon for a Giveaway! Readers can post a comment below to be entered in the drawing for a signed copy.

Hazel and Toby
I first “met’ you when I purchased Daniel Stefanski’s How to Talk to an Autistic Kid. You illustrated this terrific book that helps readers understand what’s going through the mind of a young person who is on the autistic spectrum. You’ve been very busy since that project, so thanks for stopping here to talk about your latest book, Imani’s Moon, written by JaNay Brown-Wood and just released this month.

Joyce Ray: We hear a lot about an illustrator wanting to absolutely love a story because he/she will be working on the project for a long time. What aspects of Imani’s Moon captured your imagination? How long was this project in development?

Hazel Mitchell: There were things that immediately appealed to me about Imani’s Moon. I love the fact it’s set in Africa and on the moon! Two completely different environments - challenging to draw. I also love the folktale and fantastical elements of the story.  So there was no doubt I would say yes. There were challenges – this was the first time I’d illustrated an African child and the Maasai, in particular, are such an elegant shape. Plus all the cultural specifics to get right! I didn’t have an enormous amount of time to work on the book. I think it was 4 months total.

JR: Imani is definitely a little peanut of a girl, and the story revolves around her small size and her ability to dream big. I love her winsome, dreamy expression. What resources can an artist draw on (pardon the pun) to deliver an expression that is just right for a character?

HM: Hmm. Good question. Firstly, one can draw on yourself and your own experiences of being in situations as a child. How did you feel if you were teased? Different? Had a big dream? I spent a good deal of time looking at photos of Maasai children. The girls and boys are pretty indistinguishable at a young age. Their hair is mostly shaven. They are so cute, though! So, when you start to draw, a character usually starts to come through. I liked Imani’s impishness. She’s a very determined character. I tried to walk a thin line between realistic features and cartoony. Not easy, I can tell you. I hope it has worked!

JR: I’m very interested in the challenges of illustrating a story outside of one’s own culture. Will you talk about the challenges presented by this project? What avenues were open to you for research?

HM: Yes, this was a challenge, as I said before. Totally outside my realm and I’ve never been to Africa. But then, all books usually take you out of your comfort zone somehow and that’s the fun of it. We’re lucky these days to have the resources of the internet. You could research forever! I think really immersing yourself in looking at everything you can is the only way to go. Online photo searches are probably the best to explore the world of another culture if you can’t go there. I use Bing, Google, Pinterest, Flickr. I visited websites about Maasai and African culture; researched snakes, owls, chimpanzees in Africa. 
I spent a lot of time looking at the layout and different houses in Maasai villages. And trees and undergrowth that Imani might see! I went to the library and found books and read more on Maasai heritage, much more than I needed to know, but it gave me a good grounding. The clothing and jewelry are also very specific. My friend’s son had lived with a Maasai tribe, so I was able to wrap myself in a Maasai blanket and hold a spear! I have to say the images with the moon were much easier to imagine! I wish I’d had the time and resources to visit a Maasai tribe … maybe one day!

JR: How does a project influence your choice of medium or technique? Can you share your process for deciding which artist’s tools will allow you to create the look you’re seeking?

HM: It’s a hard one to answer. I just kind of feel it when I read the manuscript. I felt a folktale like this needed lots of rich colour and detail - Africa, the moon, the colours of the Maasai clothing. It shrieked texture and depth. Also the skin colour of the Maasai is very rich. I knew I wanted to use more watecolour technique than in my other books, with a looser line and couple these with digital colouring. The underpaintings for the spreads are all produced in monochrome (blue) wash and pencil, with the colour laid over in Photoshop, a technique I love. This text deserved detail to match the story.

JR: Are there artists or illustrators who have been major influences as you have evolved as an artist?

HM: Many. Too many! I love English artists (being English!) The Pre-Rapaelite’s, Impressionists, Victorian painters. Turner, Whistler, all those. I love to look at old Victorian lithographs and woodcuts and the magazines of the pre-war with fabulous linework! As an illustrator I find I am influenced by Edward Ardizzone, Quentin Blake, EH Shepherd, Pauline Baynes, David Small, Eric Rohmann, Ralph Steadman, Arthur Rackham, Brian Floca, Garth Williams, Melissa Sweet, Loren Long, Marla Frazee … shall we stop there?

JR: How does living in Maine feed your artistic spirit? This is a loaded question since I was born and raised in Maine!

HM: Maine is a beautiful state and has a great tradition of writers and illustrators living and working here. It’s great to be part of that tradition. It’s peaceful and diverse and I wouldn’t live anywhere else! OK, maybe England.

JR: I read in another interview that you plan to write and illustrate your own books at some point. Do you have any in the works and can we expect to welcome a book authored by Hazel Mitchell in the near future?

HM: It’s happened! I have a new book coming out with Candlewick in fall 2016, working with the amazing editor Liz Bicknell. It’s called TOBY and is about an adopted poodle (based on my real dog, Toby who is a rescue) and his relationship with a young boy who adopts him. I am so excited this project is happening, and Candlewick is a fabulous house to work with.

JR: Congratulations! Can you give us a sneak peek into one of your next projects?
Illustration from ANIMALLY

HM: Right now I have three books coming out in 2015. One of these is Animally with Kane Miller by Lynn Sutton. It’s a fun rhymer about all kinds of different animals. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the illustrations.

Thanks, Hazel for sharing your artistic process with us. Best wishes for a successful launch of Imani's Moon! 

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for this beautiful book about a girl who believed. In one week, on November 7, I'll place the names in a hat and draw the winner. Good luck!

Hazel Mitchell is originally from England and now lives and works in Maine. When she wasn't riding horses as a youngster, she was drawing them. After attending art college in the UK, she spent several years in the Royal Navy and then worked as a graphic designer. Now she's doing what she always dreamed of - creating books for children. Her latest titles include Imani's Moon, One Word Pearl and 1,2,3 by the Sea. Her first book as both author and illustrator, TOBY, will be published in 2016 by Candlewick Press. Her work has been recognized by Bank Street's Best of Children's Books, Society of Illustrator's of Los Angeles, Foreword Reviews and Learning Magazine. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, NYC. 

Friday, October 10, 2014


Today, I’m highlighting a new anthology that contains conversations with some of the masterworks in New England museums.

Sara and Nana
The Poetry Loft in Cranston, RI sponsored a contest in 2013, and my critique partner, Tricia Orr, and I workshopped each others' entries. We were both finalists with the opportunity to read at the Providence Public Library. The contest was judged by poet Denise Duhamel.

Editor Beatrice Lazarus says in the Preface, "... ekphrastic poets push deep inside the painted curves... ." What a poetic description of the ekphrastic poet's process!

B.K. Fisher writes in the Introduction, "ekphrasis invites both homage and backtalk", and the reader can see this clearly in the fifty-five poems. There is also a CD with the art and the poems together. I find myself reading and re-reading while I consider the art and try to see the paintings in the same way the poets saw them.

The link for ordering is here is here if you need an ekphrastic fix! The Roundup today is over at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Thank you for hosting, Tricia!

Friday, September 19, 2014


Welcome to Poetry Friday and the many poems Amy is rounding up over at The Poem Farm.

Today I want to share a wondrous day filled with generosity and poetry on Little Cranberry Island, also known as Islesford, off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine.

The sky was clear blue and the ocean sparkled in the sunlight as the mail boat ferried us past lobstermen hauling traps on a late August day. My husband and I were on our way to the new Ashley Bryan Center to pay homage to the 91 year-old storyteller, poet, artist and illustrator I had met thirteen years ago at my MFA program. We also were meeting a relative who lives on this special little island.

Because angels and perhaps muses were leading the way, we met Ashley at the Center, and he invited us to his home. Now you have to understand that Ashley is the most gracious, kind soul on the planet. He travels far and wide to inspire others, supports literacy and well building projects in African countries, and dearly loves the children in the island school named for him. He is the best performance poet, performing files of poems from his spacious memory. And he was part of the Normandy Invasion!

At the small Center, we followed the timeline of his life, discovered his stained glass windows, and marveled at the puppets he has created from flotsam and jetsam found on the island's beaches. His new book gives each puppet its own poem, like the one for Kwesi the elephant.

Later, Jeri, our lunch host, brought us to Ashley's home. The creative energy in that space is astounding. Paintings, puppets, mobiles, African carvings, statues, shells, stones cover every inch of space on walls, surfaces and ceiling. He welcomed us upstairs in his studio where illustrations for his new book are on one work surface, stained glass on another, and large, new paintings stand on the floor. He told us how his long ago introduction to the cellist Pablo Casals changed his approach to painting. Ashley began to follow the rhythm of his hand to paint the interaction in a scene rather than try for realism.

Downstairs at his table, he recited Keats, Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Rilke in both English and German, all to illustrate points he had made about rhythm. He autographed the book I had purchased by the harbor, and acted like we had honored him by visiting on our wedding anniversary.

After saying goodbye, we walked a pebbled beach on Ashley's island. It was one of the most perfect days I can remember.