Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kids can help send books to Haiti, for free.

We Give Books has an extraordinary program in place that allows even those with no means to donate in any other way, to help send books to kids who can not afford them. It is a way of letting kids take part in something that helps them feel like they are actually contributing to this, because they are.

Go to WeGiveBooks.org and each time someone reads a free online version of Hope for Haiti or other children's books, Pearson Foundation will give an actual copy of a book to kids in Haiti.

Go check it out and let your kids take part in building a better world!


Monday, October 11, 2010

October 12, 2010. Letter to the Reader

Hope for Haiti

October 12, 2010

To the reader,

Nine months ago, I sat at my easel with my head buried in my hands. I had no idea what to do. I felt helpless, hopeless.

January 12, 2010. A powerful earthquake leveled one of the world’s poorest and most unstable cities. Instead of the typical devastation one might expect from a quake this size, destruction and chaos maxed out at levels truly unimaginable. 230,000 people dead with many more than that horribly injured. The government sat fatally crippled and powerless. Orphaned children wandered through the rubble, night and day. So many bodies overwhelmed the morgue that they lay piled in the streets for weeks. I cannot think of a more precise depiction of hell.

My agent, Rubin Pfeffer, knowing how affected I was from the news of the earthquake, sent me one photo and one question. And it was the spark that lit the fuse. "What would your reaction be if it were a book?" After that, I never looked back. I spent every waking hour writing, editing, sketching, and painting. All in all, Hope for Haiti was written, illustrated, printed, and published, in less than nine months.

At the time, the global media reaction to the earthquake was swift, inspiring a wave of humanitarian support. While this was both unprecedented and unexpected, the longevity of such a movement was questionable. There‘s a reason it is called The News. Nobody remembers last week, let alone last year. And, sadly, much of the money donated to Haiti ended up in banks’ long term parking. While these companies are profiting from the interest they are earning on donated funds, the Haitians continue suffering. Today, more than1 million refugees still live in flimsy tents and improvised shelters in Port au Prince, not to mention those living in the semi permanent slums. Food and clean water are still in demand, and everyday items are painfully expensive.

This is why I wanted to create this book. Because, as I sat at my easel and thought about the future of Haiti, I was sure of only one thing: We will forget.

Movies, TV, Internet, anything and everything that comes across the airwaves will fade away, replaced with the next big thing, or more often, the next lame distraction. But, books… In an age of impermanence, this at least is timeless. I want to put a book on the shelf of our collective future in hopes that we might not forget this event, nor our connection with the people who endured it.

When I traveled to Haiti, I prepared myself for emotional trauma. But that is not what I left with. While the destitution is pronounced, the sense I walked away with beyond anything else? Hope. I met so many positive, intelligent, creative, ambitious kids who have all the potential in the world, if given the right tools. If anyone can forge a new Haiti, these are the ones to do it. Helping them find ways of not only surviving but thriving, turning Haiti from an exporter of only refugees, to an exporter of all kinds of produce, music, art, literature, and anything else that might benefit the nation and its people.

This is not about a simple handout, pity, a lecture from a well off country on how to do things "right", or anything else that diminishes the culture and qualities of Haiti. Instead, we come together in support of those in our human family who bear more burden than the rest, and shoulder the weight together.

Thank you for supporting this book and the efforts behind it, including We Give Books, and my publisher, Putnam/Penguin, who, through books sales, is giving a generous donation to Save the Children’s Haiti Earthquake - Children in Emergency Fund.



P.S. You can order online through sites like the ones below, or you can order personalized, signed copies directly from me. Click here to order directly from me.





Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ghetto Cowboy

My next project is officially underway. Of course, much like an iceberg, the bulk of the work is beneath the surface, invisible to anyone but my wifey and I, and the art dept at the publisher. Photo shoots, countless rounds of sketches, drawings, revisions, sketches, drawings, revisions, ... Until, I break the paint out.

Once I am finally good to go on the drawings, which are now dozens of layers of redrawn and rescanned bits, all compiled to make the finished and approved final sketch, I have to redraw that sucker yet again. It is dangerous because as I project my sketch on to the larger sized illustration board, I am tempted to hurry and thus destroy all the drawing work I have spent months on. See, the gesso on the illustration board helps the paint not suck immediately into the fibers, but it also virtually prevents any erasing from happening once a pencil line is laid down. It sucks.

Once I get the pencil on the board, I spend hours finessing the line until I am confident I have not turned a cute girl into an ogre, a little boy into an old man, or a horse into a thestral. That is when the paint comes out. First, I lay a wash of ivory black down over the entire piece. I use a big, soft watercolor brush and a tiny spray bottle. That way I am getting this cool, water splotched effect for background texture. much of that will be visible beneath future layers of paint. And, if it is cool enough at this level, I plan ways to keep as much of it as I can. That quick, free brushwork ends up giving the entire painting a sense of carefree playful brushstrokes being the foundation. And then, I do my best not to ruin it with tight, fidgetty work over the top of that layer. But, in the case of faces, that is a very tough task. Because, of course, the face has got to look just so otherwise it is not the same person. You can't have a character who looks different in each piece. So, there is where the fussy brushwork comes in. Some places like eyes, are particularly susceptible to attracting way more layers than anything else on the page. Gotta watch out for that. The highest goal now is to get it right in as few brushstrokes as possible, to preserve the freedom of the underpainting, and to avoid slowing the viewers' eyes down with areas that have been overworked.

When my under-painting is dry, I start chipping away , one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I start in factory style, with just white. I go through each place that needs pure white and lay it down, move to the next painting, lay it down, move on. Repeat the process with the dark gray or black. Repeat with mid tones. And on and on into the night.

It is here that I bring out so many of the details that never showed up in the sketches. For this project, since the fact that it is in a notoriously impoverished ghetto in north Philly, I had to aide in the comprehension of this very tangible element visually. So I add the bullet holes, the cracks in the sidewalk, the boarded up front doors, the graffiti, the cops, the people on the corner, etc. Sometimes I add little hidden bits into signs or graffiti. In this one below, I named the bodega Mariah's, and in honor of my sweet wife who makes it possible for me to work like this. She blocks for me. She aides me with impromptu model shoots, or random odd objects that I suddenly require. I have used her arm or hand or shoe too many times to count. "Honey, can you hold these reigns for me?"

As I dive into this portion of a project, I always have a few ways of keeping sane. One way is audio books. Another is streaming Netflix documentaries. I am listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (again) and watching, or rather, listening, to all kind of stuff. I watched this flick on the Donkey Kong champion. It was actually a cool movie. Eighties power.

And last night I watched, Crips and Bloods: Made in America. That was surprisingly good. It was not a quick and cheesy dance through gangland set to an NWA soundtrack, but spent half the film talking about the creation of these gangs by way of LA's strictly enforced color lines, the longstanding legacy of police brutality and injustice against black Americans, the FBI's assassination and imprisonment of every black political organization in LA in the 70's, and the introduction of cocaine en masse into the ghettos. Nice work there, CIA. You the hardest gangsta out there, ever! You isolate a population you have always hated and throw in the gasoline and matches and watch them do your work for you. Kill off the political potential of generation after generation.

Moment to cool down..... ah. Ok. Here is a horse. Nice horsey.

Check back soon. I will post more progress and go off on other rants. Baby steps. One after another.

Cowboy up.