Friday, December 14, 2012

The Tomie dePaola Illustration Competition

This year I joined the Society for Children's Books Writers and Illustrators for the first time. Working toward the goal of the portfolio review at the conference will be a strong incentive for me in the month I have off from teaching.   I was especially excited to enter into the annual illustration competition, run by the author and illustrator Tomie de Paola, of Strega Nona fame.  We always loved the Strega Nona (Grandma Witch) books, especially as my mother's family is Calabrian.  The stories hit home.  The chance for Tomie to see my work, even if I don't win, was too great to pass up. 

This year's challenge was a black and white challenge, perfect for my current line of work. We were to present an illustration of a passage from Little Women, Tom Sawyer, or The Yearling, paired with its corresponding passage. We were only allowed one page, not a spread.  For a challenge I picked Little Women.  I re-read the book. There are many lovely, romantic passages, like the proposals of Laurie or the Professor. Some are sweet, like Beth sitting in the lap of Mr. Laurence, kissing his cheek to thank him for the piano. Some are sad, like Beth lying in her sister Jo's lap at the beach when she admits she is dying. Still others are nearly neoclassical: picture Amy sketching a rogue Laurie in Marseilles as he smokes a cigarette, backed by statuary.

But one passage stood out. The girls are talking about their castles in the sky: where and how they could live if all of their fancies ring true. Laurie talks of living in Austria and playing music. Beth desires to stay home (something that comes true).  Meg wants to live in a rich home (she marries a poor man for love), while Amy desires to travel to Rome (she does) to become the best artist living (she abandons that dream).

Jo, however, dreams of writing.  She pictures the wonder that will come from her magic inkstand in rooms piled high with books.  So that's where I took my inspiration!

Mr. de Paola, I know you will never see this post. However, it was a real honor to show you my work, and I hope it made you smile.  Your work certainly did. 

"Jo's Castle in the Sky" Pencil Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman
"Jo's Castle in the Sky" Pencil Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman

Monday, November 12, 2012

Of Heroes and Beasts

The fourth installment in the "Beasts in Books" series had to be the Centaur.  I conceived of him, fully-grown, in my mind, in appropriate mythological fashion.  He rested and matured in my mind while I worked on another commission.

Having just finished Madeline Miller's "The Song of Achilles," I was inspired to draw the centaur. She writes the centaur Chiron so elegantly.  In Greek culture, centaurs have generally suffered from a bad reputation, known chiefly for their lusty and destructive tendencies, due to the fact that they are half-man half-horse.  In art, you may find them most famously on the Parthenon reliefs, where they battle the tribe of Lapiths.  However, a few centaurs stand out as more man than beast: Pholus and Chiron.

I took as my inspiration the most famous of the centaurs: Chiron.  Son of the titan Cronus and a cloud goddess, Chiron was tutored by Artemis (virgin goddess of the hunt) and her brother Apollo (god of the sun, the hunt, poetry, and medicine), learning at their hands to hunt, to play, and to heal.  He tutored most of the heroes of ancient mythology, including Achilles, Hercules, Jason, and Actaeon on the heights of Mt. Pelion. 

I took as another point of inspiration Ovid's Fasti, Book V, May 3, which tells of Chiron's accidental death from the hydra-poisoned spear of Hercules, in the company of both Hercules and the young Achilles:

"In less than four nights, Chiron, the semi-human
Joined to the body of a tawny horse, reveals his stars.
Pelion is a mountain facing south in Haemonian Thessaly:
The summit’s green with pines, the rest is oak.
Chiron, Philyra’s son, lived there. An ancient rocky cave
Remains, inhabited once, they say, by that honest old one.
He’s thought to have exercised those hands, that one day
Sent Hector to his death, in playing on the lyre.
Hercules visited him, most of his labours done,
Only the last few tasks remaining for the hero.
You could have viewed Troy’s twin fates, together:
One the young scion of Aeacus, the other Jove’s son.
Chiron received young Hercules hospitably,
And asked him the reason for his being there.
He replied, as Chiron viewed his club and lion-skin, saying:
‘The man is worthy of these weapons, the weapons of the man!’
Nor could Achilles, daringly, restrain his hands,
From touching that pelt shaggy with bristles.
While the old one handled the arrows, encrusted with poison,
A shaft fell from the quiver and lodged in his left foot.
Chiron groaned, and drew its blade from his body:
Hercules, and the Thessalian youth groaned too.
Though the Centaur himself mixed herbs culled
From Pagasean hills, treating the wound with ointments,
The gnawing venom defied his remedies, and its evil
Penetrated his body, to the marrow of his bones.
The blood of the Lernean Hydra fused with
The Centaur’s blood, giving no chance for aid.
Achilles, drenched in tears, stood before him as before
A father, just as he would have wept for Peleus dying.
Often he caressed the feeble fingers with loving hands,
(The teacher had his reward for the character he’d formed),
And he kissed him, often, and often, as he lay there, cried:
‘Live, I beg you: don’t leave me, dear father!’
The ninth day came, and you, virtuous Chiron,
Wrapped your body in those fourteen stars."

On May 5 and 6, Ovid discusses the constellations Centaurus and Scorpio; one appears to be shooting the other. In the drawing, I've added the Ovid in its original Latin.  The border contains a pattern commonly found on Greek pottery, and in the corners, in Greek red figure pottery style, are the centaur shooting at the scorpion, to match their constellations in the spring night sky.  Below are two of Chiron's students: Hercules, with club and lion skin, and Achilles, armored as we would see him in the Trojan War.   Chiron himself, in the body of the artwork, is how I imagined him, with long horse ears and a mane in place of hair. His eyes are dark like a horse's. He wields a bow but it is not notched with an arrow; I imagine him at the hunt on the heights of Pelion.

"The Centaur" 2012 Jessica Boehman

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween and Hans at the Sheldon

My notecards have arrived at the University of Nebraska's Sheldon Museum of Art Museum Shop just in time for Halloween. 

How I wish I could go shopping here. Clearly we are kindred spirits. I would purchase everything I see. Here are my Poe card and Halloween Hedgehog card amidst a lovely Halloween display:
Gorgeous display of Halloween treats. Photo by Genevieve Ellerbee, Registrar Extraordinaire

They are in such good company. Photo by Genevieve Ellerbee
 The incredible thing is that my cards on the rack below are adjacent to an artist whose work hangs in my studio. It's an image of an angel who is gifting the world to an imaginative soul. I love the message. It made me cry when I saw it and my sister Amy bought it as a Christmas present for me. I read it every day.  It makes me very happy to see that I am now sharing space with someone who inspires me.
My Dancing Bear, Brementown Musicians, and Hedgehogs in Love. Photo by Genevieve Ellerbee

Monday, October 8, 2012

Featured artist on!

Today I am the featured artist on, a wonderful site run by Carolyn Edlund, the director of the Arts Business Institute. If you're an artist, you should sign up for email blasts from this site. It has so much helpful information for making a business out of your art.

Please check it out! I am very proud of this today, and I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Great Horse Came Bounding out of the Sea

The third in my "Beasts in Books" series is the hippocampus, the Greek hybrid seahorse, with forequarters of a horse and hindquarters of a fish. The word derives from the Greek "hippos" (horse) and "kampos" (sea monster); its fantastical nature is therefore found in his very name.  Pausanius says they are part whale, Philostratus says that they are akin to dolphins, while Homer claims they were golden-hooved. 

What would a hippocampus look like? My first inclination was to make him with a fine coat from head to tail, like a seal.  I could imagine them rolling and frolicking in the surf.  But then again, I was imagining a cold water animal.  The waters of the Aegean would not befit such a suit of hair.  Would he be slick, like a dolphin? But then, we would lose his horse-like nature.  I decided to make him a true mythological hybrid, with a fish's scales and tail, but muscular, so he could propel the chariots of Poseidon.  I gave him a ridge of mane all the way down his back, in place of a dorsal fin.  I kept his surroundings fantastical, flanking him with the real (octopodes and fishes) and the imaginary (mermaids).

His text draws from the Argonautica, the text from Apollonius Rhodius, a Hellenistic poet who wrote the story of Jason and the Argonauts.  In this scene, the hippocampus rises from the surf and gallops away. His appearance is seen as an omen, and the men decide to carry the ship on their shoulders across the desert in the sea horse's wake. The speaker is Peleus, an Argonaut whose later fame came from his demigod hero son, Achilles:

"A great horse came bounding out of the sea, a monstrous animal, with his golden mane waving in the air. He shook himself, tossing off the spray in showers. Then, fast as the wind, he galloped away. Peleus was overjoyed and at once explained the portent to the others. `It is clear to me,’ he said, `that Poseidon’s loving wife has just unyoked his team. As for our mother, I take her to be none but the ship herself. Argo carried us in her womb; we have often heard her groaning in her pain. Now, we will carry her. We will hoist her on our shoulders, and never resting , never tiring, carry her across the sandy waste in the track of the galloping horse. He will not disappear inland. I am sure that his hoofprints will lead us to some bay that overlooks the sea."

"The Hippocampus" pencil. Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman


Monday, September 24, 2012

Of Virgins and Unicorns

Perhaps the most famous of the mythological beasts, save for the dragon, the unicorn (monoceros) has a long history dating back to antiquity, where he may be found in the writings of Aristotle, Aelian, Philostratus, and Pliny the Elder.  In the eyes of the ancients, he was a hybrid animal like the ones that the Greeks and Romans were used to describing in their mythologies, even though this animal plays no real part in the lore of that culture.  They describe him in fantastical terms, with the body of a horse, the head of a stag, the tail of a boar, and the feet of an elephant. And, of course, the single horn on its brow that identified him as the unicorn.  One other detail remained, one that would persist throughout the rest of the unicorn's history: it could not be captured alive.

In the Middle Ages, the unicorn was a commonplace element in bestiaries that described real and imagined animals alike.  In manuscripts, he is shown in a range of colors from brown to white to blue.  He sometimes looks like a horse, at other times, a goat.  Of course, the most famous image of him is held here in NYC, from the Cloisters Unicorn Tapestries.  There, he is shown as a slight white horse tamed by a maiden.

The legend has it that only a virgin could tame the unicorn.  This came down to us through the Physiologus bestiary: "He is a small animal, like a kid, but surprisingly fierce for his size, with one very sharp horn on his head, and no hunter is able to catch him by force. Yet there is a trick by which he is taken. Men lead a virgin to the place where he most resorts and leave her there alone. As soon as he sees this virgin he runs and lays his head in her lap. She strokes him and he falls asleep. The hunters then approach and capture him and lead him to the palace of the king." 

The identification of the unicorn with Christ, white in his purity, able to only be tamed by the Virgin Mary, seems clear.   

But thinking of what the unicorn of my imagination could have been like, I wondered about him and his tamer.  Girls in this period were married very young, so in order for the tamer to be a virgin, she must have been just a child.  What a horrible thing for a young girl to be used as the means to catch the elusive unicorn.  Since many of the medieval images showed the unicorn as a goat, I wonder if he had some qualities of the goat.  I made him slight and small, like a pony, and swift of foot, not so much larger than the child who would tame him.  His cloven hooves make it easier for him to ascend rocky passages, where mounted hunters could not easily follow.  His horn follows the twisting pattern of the narwhal horns (actually a tooth) that were sold as unicorn relics in Europe.  In the border that surrounds him, I made a medieval-style unicorn hunt through the forest at night.  Though the dogs and hunters close in on him, we know he will escape. There is no virgin to be found here, so our unicorn will win the day.

"The Unicorn" Pencil. Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman

Sunday, September 16, 2012

In this country be many Griffins

About fifteen months ago I was lying in my bed in the middle of the night. I wasn't sleeping well as I was recovering from my third abdominal surgery since I was a teenager. It's impossible to roll over due to the incisions (I sleep on my side) and my back was sore from being in one position.  So I spent my time daydreaming, even though it was nighttime.

I imagined drawing a series of mythological beasts that looked realistic, and looked like they had been found within the pages of the books that described them.  Did you ever wonder if these creatures were real and we've just forgotten them, or chose not to believe in them? If you consider mythology, it tells the stories of a culture that is defunct, or the stories of a religion in which you do not believe--but people once did believe.  Is it possible, with some squinting of the eyes, that we could still see these creatures in the shadows of the forest? Is it possible to believe them back into being?

I can't pinpoint why the Griffin was the first on my list, the one that demanded attention from me.  I like his long history, his roots in Egypt and Greece.  In Egypt, old renditions associate griffins with the sun and with the lotus flower, so I've imbedded four lotuses within sun disks as a nod to his ancient heritage.  I always imagine encountering such beasts nesting high up in dense forests; so I've filled his border with trees growing black feathers.  The Egyptians, the Greeks (including Philostratus), the Italian writer Dante, and even the Persians wrote about griffins.

The text in the image below (yes, I've been playing on this concept recently), is from the middle ages.  It's from a text of the fictional Sir John Mandeville, simply called The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.  It reads:

"In that country be many griffins, more plenty than in any other country. Some men say that they have the body upward as an eagle and beneath as a lion; and truly they say sooth, that they be of that shape. But one griffin hath the body more great and is more strong than eight lions, of such lions as be on this half, and more great and stronger than an hundred eagles such as we have amongst us. For one griffin there will bear, flying to his nest, a great horse, if he may find him at the point, or two oxen yoked together as they go at the plough. For he hath his talons so long and so large and great upon his feet, as though they were horns of great oxen or of bugles or of kine, so that men make cups of them to drink of. And of their ribs and of the pens of their wings, men make bows, full strong, to shoot with arrows and quarrels."

The text claims that Mandeville had traveled through the known world, from England, all the way through Europe to Northern Africa, Persia, and Turkey. He claims to have seen cotton plants that sprouted wooly lambs and goats:
If he believed in such wondrous plants, then the griffins of which he spoke must be real as well.  I hope they are, somewhere out there.

"In this country be many Griffins" Pencil. Copyright 2012 Jessica M. Boehman

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Quoth the Raven


"Dreaming Dreams (An Ode to Poe)" Pencil and digital color. Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Fantastic Mr. William Joyce

There are some days when my life seems truly blessed.  There are many reasons why I would choose not to live in NYC.  However, there are days when I'm really glad to be here, and this past Saturday was one of those days.

I was lucky enough to attend a book signing and talk with the author, illustrator, and filmmaker William Joyce at Books of Wonder in NYC.  I've written about this little gem of a store many times;   it continues to inspire me. Children's books authors and illustrators are my celebrities! If you haven't yet visited Joyce's website, please do so by clicking here.  You'll love it.

Joyce has written and illustrated many books, including the Guardians of Childhood series, comprising "The Man in the Moon," "Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King," and "E. Aster Bunnymand and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core!" 

William Joyce, spread from "Man in the Moon"

His new picture book, where he teamed with illustrator Joe Bluhm, is called "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." It--and the Oscar-winning animated short of the same title--was the subject of his talk.

Joyce spent the bulk of his time talking about life in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He told an anecdote about how he observed children in the hurricane shelters, crammed with thousands of people who had lost their homes, who were able to lose themselves "in the bubble" of their imaginations when reading books that he had passed out to them.  This helped to inspire a portion of his book.  It begins when Morris Lessmore, his beloved books, and even the words on the page of the book he writes, blows away in a Wizard of Oz-style storm that upends his home and leaves him in a black and white world.  While no Wicked Witches were squashed below, below, below his home, and no yellow brick road appeared to show him the way, his wanderings led him to a young woman being carried aloft by books.  Flying books.  Flying books in color!  He followed one particular book, a flip-book animation of Humpty Dumpty, to an old house filled with these books.  Reading the books, getting immersed in a world of imagination, Morris turned to color after his world went black and white.  The house he lived in had no computer (like Joyce), no internet, no hand-held games, not even a Kindle. Just books. Books that gave color to his world.  And living there, he wrote his own book.  He lived among and in the books, took care of them, shared them with others, until he was an old man.  I won't give the ending away. 

Little did I know that we would also be able to view the movie with Joyce and his colleague, the movie's director Brandon Oldenburg, also of Moonbot Studios, in attendance.  It's a first for me: seeing an Oscar-winning film for the first time with the men who made it.  How inspiring!

Screening of "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore".  See Joyce at left.
Of course I got a copy of the book signed for my inspiration collection.  It's so great to be able to talk to the authors. 

He drew the egg with a pen for me, because I told him I am an illustrator.
I asked if it were nerdy to want to pose with the author. He replied, "Yes, but that's ok!" I own that one. I am a children's literature nerd.  Are you, too?  Don't be afraid to admit it.  Heck, embrace it! It means you have a verdant imagination and a healthy dose of innocence left.  Those two things are still in short supply.

Me and William Joyce. Amazing. Or, as my nephew would say, "Epicness!" Even cooler that a Trina S. Hyman and a Gennady Spirin book illustration are directly behind us. They are two of my favorites.
Even nerdier, but via proxy: here is my photo with a very accommodating Brandon Oldenburg. It's my geekfest photo for my little sister, an animation student at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Me and Brandon Oldenburg, posing with Joyce's "Dinosaur Bob"
 The moral of the story (of my day): keep dreaming and think big.  They thought and worked all the way to the Oscars, and won.  Thanks for a cool afternoon, Mr. Joyce, and a healthy dose of imagination.

Friday, August 3, 2012

As Ugly as a Hedgehog

The story of Hans-My-Hedgehog has been the subject of a few posts here: one, which shows the grown half-man half-hedgehog Hans riding astride his rooster as king of the forest, (click here); the other, which is a self-portrait with said rooster and hedgehog (click here). Here is my second installment of Hans-My-Hedgehog, though really, it would be the first following the story's narrative.

As always, the Brothers Grimm version is grim indeed, focusing on the horror of the story.  They look to the father instead of the mother. The father wishes for a son to help him in his old age, to be heir to his farm:

'Once upon a time there was a peasant who had money and land enough, but as rich as he was, there was still something missing from his happiness: He had no children with his wife. Often when he went to the city with the other peasants, they would mock him and ask him why he had no children. He finally became angry, and when he returned home, he said, "I will have a child, even if it is a hedgehog."  Then his wife had a baby, and the top half was a hedgehog and the bottom half a boy. When she saw the baby, she was horrified and said, "Now see what you have wished upon us!"
The man said, "It cannot be helped. The boy must be baptized, but we cannot ask anyone to be his godfather."  The woman said, "And the only name that we can give him is Hans-My-Hedgehog."'

But they miss the point of view of the mother; they did not understand that longing for a child that can run in a woman's blood.

Anthony Minghella's version comes closer to the truth:

'That woman wanted a bairn so bad she wouldn't care what she got.  If she had a hedgehog, she'd bring its snout to her breast...No sooner said than done, she got her wish. No time at all, she has her boy, little ball as ugly as sin with a pointed nose and sprouting hair everywhere, a hedgehog baby with quills as soft as feathers."

One of my favorite renditions of this scene is by an illustrator named Ina, whose subtly-rendered drawings are filled with loving detail (click here).  Ina shows the nursing mother with her gentle, beastly baby. 

What would it be like to finally have that much-desired child, even if it were as ugly as a hedgehog? Would a mother truly scorn that child and make it sleep behind the stove?  Or would the mother love that child as the darling of her heart, would she cuddle it and rock it and nurse it in the night? Would she heat milk for it and feed it to him and sing lullabies into his quills?  What would you do?  This is what I would do.

"Rocking the Hedgehog Baby" Pencil. copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Illustrated Woman

I just finished reading Ray Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man," a book I probably should have read years ago.  The title story in this compilation is about a tattooed man whose life is dictated by the moving, morphing, future-telling images on his skin.

Though I have designed tattoos, I do not have any. I'm fickle. My tastes change. So I thought there must be a way I could wear my own art without permanence.  Jewelry seems like a classier option than wearable tees or the like.  It was my luck to become fast friends with a jeweler who likes my drawings as much as I like her jewelry!

Debbie Liu creates two lines of jewelry.  The first, Bunnies Can Dream, is a line of colorful, whimsical jewelry with many hand-worked elements, like macrame (  The second is Harlequin & Lionhead, also named after her two rabbit breeds.  This shop specializes in sculpted cast precious metal rings, earrings, bracelets, and pendants (  She recently had her first trunk show at Henri Bendel.  Well, I was impressed.

I've known Deb for over a year now.  We are actually relatively close neighbors in Queens. Some time ago we began planning a joint venture where tiny giclée prints would be embedded in pendants.  This is a prototype, a two-sided pendant with two of my Delacorte clock illustrations: The Dancing Bear and the Penguin with Drum.  The pendent is made with giclée prints embedded in resin and brass.

We'll be playing around with variations on this idea that can keep it affordable for a large crowd.  Who wouldn't like a whimsical necklace like this?  It's pretty great that I get to keep the prototype!

Animal Pendant by Jessica Boehman and Debbie Liu: recto, The Dancing Bear

Animal Pendant by Jessica Boehman and Debbie Liu.  Verso: Penguin with Drum

Thursday, July 19, 2012


While I was abroad in London, I received a very happy email from an author looking to use an existing drawing, the Goat with Aulos, for the cover of her forthcoming book, "Goatsong."
"Goat with Aulos" Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman
That image had already been licensed for use on a Portuguese wine called "Dancing Goat"--I can't wait for a bottle--so I asked if I could create something new for her.

In the author's own words, "the book is about three "homeless" women, one of them with a cabin and a herd of goats, and a young neglected-by-her-own-mother girl who lives with them for a while. It is about redemption, about Goatsong... the original "tragedy" (from the Greek tragos, “goat,” and oida, “song”), that separation from nature, and a reunion through love and Joie de vivre." For more information, visit

Clearly the goat needed to be joyful, even more joyful than the goat above, which derives from the Delacorte Clock in Central Park.  Since the title of the book came from the Greek root for tragedy, I thought it appropriate that the music fit the theme.  The aulos, a two-horned pipe, is also Greek.  I chose to use the pan pipe, which we tend to associate with fauns and satyrs, the half-men, half-goat, well-known for their own joie de vivre, the joy of life or exultation of the spirit.  They are mischievous creatures.

Here is the drawing for the cover of the book.  Indeed, I may like him more than the original. It also shows how my drawing style has become a bit tighter than a year ago. 

"Cover for Patricia Damery's 'Goatsong'" by Jessica Boehman. 2012. Pencil.
Interested in custom illustrations for your novel or children's book? Please contact me here:

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Day with Roald Dahl

"Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
--Roald Dahl, "The Minpins"

My sister and I recently took a trip to England (based in London) and Rome.  The highlight of the London portion of our trip was the day we took a train from London Marylebone station to the tiny town of Great Missenden, most famous as having been the home of the writer Roald Dahl.  We traveled there specifically to see the Roald Dahl Museum, and it really was worth the trip.  It was only 40 minutes by train, and the town was lovely and all that you'd expect a tiny British town to be. The museum was whimsical, with many fanciful details.  To top it off, the food at the museum restaurant, Cafe Twit, was delicious, well-priced, and very fresh, and the chef and staff were exceedingly friendly.  Where else can you enjoy a piece of Bogtrotter cake, Matilda-style, drizzled with chocolate ganache, white chocolate, and maltesers, along with fizzy lifting drinks?
Dahl and Fantastic Mr. Fox
 The museum was small but contained many wonders.  The first room was called "Boy," both after the book and the way Roald used to sign his letters to his mother.  It contained original letters, a candy jar with mouse (which derived from "Boy"), a school uniform you could try on, and audio stories also taken from "Boy."  The door was a giant chocolate Wonka bar.

Chocolate Doors...they even seem to melt.
Letter from Roald Dahl to his mother, signed "Love from BOY"
My favorite item in this room was the first draft folio from "The Witches," hand-written.  This is the chapter that tells the story of the grandmother.  This may be my favorite of Dahl's books.  I first read it on the day we moved out of the US to Germany.  I got through most of it in the airport, but it eased my nerves (or distracted me) on a day I was really nervous. We would not be returning home for three years.

First draft folio from "The Witches"
In the next room, we traveled with Dahl across the world and watched him grow first as a pilot and then as an author.   We saw portholes with photographs of alligators morph before our eyes into drawings by Quentin Blake.  Blakes's lively, sketchy style filled the pages of all of Dahl's children's books.  He formed our first visual impressions of Charlie, Willy Wonka, the BFG, the Grand High Witch, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, and more... He remains one of my favorite illustrators to this day.  You won't regret a trip to his website,

Dahl with Quentin Blake, his amazing illustrator
We measured ourselves against a Dahl measuring stick, where the Big Friendly Giant, foxes, Grandpa Joe, and Oompa Loompas served as height indicators.  My sister and I were both "A Complete Wonka."

We're a complete Wonka.  Only half the size of Roald Dahl, it seems
We also got to see, amazingly, the original writing shed of Dahl, completely preserved and intact as it was when he passed away in 1990.  After the injuries Dahl received as a pilot, this was the most comfortable way he worked. He surrounded himself with little objects he loved, as most of us do.

Dahl's writing shed and chair
Meghan with the original set from the recent film version of "The Fantastic Mr Fox": an animator's dream?
Notice that the set above, from the wonderful film rendition of "Fantastic Mr. Fox," recreates Dahl's writing chair and shed, and many of the details on the walls.  Elsewhere in the museum, we made our own stop-motion animations, drew pictures, made silly stories with magnets, and dressed in costumes.  We whispered ideas into an idea-generator and dreamed stories of our own.

Afterward we stuffed ourselves on the Bogtrotter cake and a delicious, fresh lunch at Cafe Twit.  I broke my diet for this and it was worth it. It was absolutely delicious.
(Bruce) Bogtrotter cake at Cafe Twit, Great Missenden, UK. Yes, it was as good as it looks.

We then walked through town and in the country and stumbled across the cemetery where Dahl was laid to rest.

As you might guess, the BFG showed us the way:
Me and the BFG's footprint
How amazing to be able to visit this location from which so many of my dreams have sprung, and to pay my respects to one of the most talented, creative, ever-youthful minds the last century has ever seen. It was a perfect day, and I am very happy my sister and I got to share it together.

The grave of Roald Dahl

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sunflower Farm Creamery

This month I had a really fun opportunity to make an illustrated logo for a lovely farm/creamery in Cumberland, Maine.   Their farm ( is a true menagerie: they have Nigerian dwarf goats, dogs, potbellied pigs, barn cats, and a variety of chickens.  The logo was specifically to be made for products for sale: goat's milk cheeses and eggs.  We went through a number of drafts, and ended up with something simple that could be used for a product label or for a logo that also calls attention to the farm name and the type of products they will create.  The black and white chicken is a silver wyandotte, a breed they have on their farm, while the baby goat is an actual kid named May who was born this year, so the logo is about as personalized as it gets.   It's a feel-good kind of project.

If you are interested in an illustrated logo for your business, you can contact me here:

Sunflower Farm Creamery Logo, Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman. Pencil and digital color.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Introducing Ludo

Jim Henson's Labyrinth was one of my favorites as a kid.  Still is, really.  It is one of those rare films which, from the first opening scene, still makes me imagine.  Or makes imagining feel like the best thing in the world.   As children, we recreated scenes from the movie on videotape on cold, German winter days.  We memorized the songs, the lines, and the characters' quirks.  It's amazing how puppets can seem so real.

Ludo and Sara.
Ludo was one of the most heartwarming and gentlest of all the fantastic creatures in the film.  He seems initially menacing, but takes to kindness like a sponge.  He is loyal, helpful, and loving.  He even can command rocks with his howl.  What's not to like?  Even the late Princess Diana agreed: here she is meeting Ludo (with Henson in the background, smiling) at the Labyrinth premiere.

We've named a lot of our pets after Henson creatures.  Merlin was named after Sara's dog in Labyrinth.  Fozzie is a Muppet.  How could I break the tradition?  We rescued this handsome dog this week from Badass Brooklyn Foster Dog.  He was in a high-kill shelter in SC.  He's only about a year and a half, and still acts like a puppy.  He's taken to his new home like a fish to water.  His color and his funny, downturned ears reminded me of Ludo's horns, so that's what we decided to name him.

Meet the newest member of Hans-My-Hedgehog Illustrations!  His name will inspire me to keep dreaming.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Safe travels, Maurice

Goodbye, Maurice Sendak.  You will be greatly missed.  Though you don't believe in Heaven, I'll imagine you in a heaven created with the stuff of your dreams.  May you rest in peace.

"Max's Last Voyage" Pencil and colored pencil on brown paper. Copyright 2012 Jessica Boehman

Thursday, April 19, 2012

For Baby

This month I  designed a baby card for a friend I met in Rome.  She also happens to be the daughter of the woman who taught me my profession while I was in college and who encouraged me to become a professor.  Honestly, I had never been good at presenting. I had famously destroyed a presentation on Napoleon and Francisco Goya in my Spanish Cultural History class, to the point where the teacher assigned presentations again the following year to give me a second chance.  I nailed the second one, refusing to admit defeat.  But this professor was wonderful. She was enthusiastic, intelligent, kind, and most importantly, was genuinely interested in her students.  I gave a presentation in her class on the medieval sculptures of the Church of La Madeleine in Vezelay, France, and tried to channel her enthusiasm.  I had learned from her that I could incorporate anecdotes that would make a lesson seem like a story. Indeed, I still teach like that today.  After the presentation, she asked me if I had ever considered becoming a professor.  In God's honest truth, I had never once considered it.  I was an art major.  Within the year I was a dual major in art and art history, and the rest is, well, art history, I suppose.

I had the good fortune to meet her daughter who was a few years my senior during my year abroad in Rome.  We had a really nice, rustic Roman meal and enjoyed some outdoor cafes and late-night art.  How pleased I was that she now has asked me to design a baby card for her.  She wanted elephants as a theme for her baby boy, who is due in the coming weeks.  I incorporated two textiles that she had in her home from her travels, and added a bit of my own flair as well.  It will be printed into cards on lovely cotton tree-free stock for her to use as thank yous for all of the sweet gifts her little bambino will receive to welcome him to this world.

Welcome, baby!

"Three Elephants" Pencil and digital color.  Copyright 2012 by Jessica Boehman

Monday, April 16, 2012

Meeting the 2012 Newbery and Caldecott winners and honorees

This past Saturday, my favorite little shop in all of NYC, Books of Wonder, hosted an event for the 2012 Caldecott and Newbery winners and honorees.  We arrived a little late and so missed some of the panel discussion, which was a shame, but what we did hear was pretty entertaining. The authors spoke of their working habits, their insecurities when it comes to their writing and illustration (good to hear for a beginner like me), their inspirations, etc.  They were all very nice and quite humorous and submitted to a long line of questions and autographs with grace.

Lane Smith, Chris Raschka, Jack Gantos, and Eugene Yelchin

John Rocco, Patrick McDonnell (say cheese!) and Lane Smith
 The winners and honorees from this year were all there except one.  The Newbery Prize went to Jack Gantos for "Dead End in Norvelt."  I'm only about 1/4 of the way through it but it's absolutely delightful.  It's so nostalgic for America of the 60s, and the protagonist is about the same age my mom and dad would have been.  Young Jack is an intelligent, curious, innocent, humorous child trying to escape the punishment of his parents while working with a old neighbor, Ms. Volker, who writes the local obits.  It smacks of a simpler time when imaginations were bigger.  Gantos has managed to capture the range of emotions children have, along with the flights of fancy that accompany that age. It makes me want to be a kid again, or to write books.  Either way, it's great so far and it's distracting me from other work!

Jack Gantos signing my copy of "Dead End in Norvelt"

Jack Gantos' morbid signature

The Caldecott Medal for best illustrated book went to Chris Raschka for "A Ball for Daisy."  It's a wordless book that tells the story of a dog who loves his red ball.  One day, another dog at the park pops the ball accidentally.  The range of emotions that Raschka captures in his simple pictures shows his skill as an illustrator.   I even found myself howling at one point, like Daisy, mourning for his ball.  Maybe I shouldn't admit to that, but it speaks to the power of the drawings. 

Note the little hand-drawn image of Daisy in the upper right corner.

The Newbery honoree was Eugene Yelchin for his heartbreaking story of a little boy growing up in Communist Russia under Stalin.  Called "Breaking Stalin's Nose," the book is about the disillusionment of the boy, who had once idolized Stalin, after a series of events opened his eyes to the terrors of that regime.  I read this book on Saturday night in two sittings. It's heavy material for a children's literature, but he doesn't edit the parts that are scary.  During the panel, Yelchin said that he had tried to find a way to make a happy ending or for the boy to still find some good in Stalin, but it wouldn't be true to the spirit of the book, and I agree.  What makes it so powerful is that it reads as true, though it is a fictionalized account.  Yelchin himself fled Communist Russia as a young man and his parents lived through the time of Stalin.  I only wish I had read the book before I met him, because it really was quite beautiful, albeit very sad.  It reminded me of the years we spent in Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall.

I'll list the Caldecott nominees in no particular order.  Patrick McDonnell's book, "Me...Jane," was based on the childhood of Jane Goodall, as she learns to dream of a bigger life, one that can help animals.  Her stuffed monkey that accompanies her on her adventures in her backyard gives a hint of a life to come.  My favorite sequence from the book shows Jane sitting in her tree in her backyard with Jubilee, the stuffed chimp.  She is reading a copy of Tarzan.  Turn the page, and her house is now in the middle of the African jungle.  It's so cool.  The end of the book is good for little girls (and boys, but it was touching to me that a male author would make his young heroine so intelligent and curious) to read, because it shows her dreams coming true.  McDonnell is active in the protection of animals in his own life and so this book makes perfect sense.

Patrick McDonnell
Look at the giraffe. Adorable.
Lane Smith's book "Grandpa Green," another Caldecott honoree, was a flight of horticultural imagination.  It tells the story of a little boy telling a story about his great-grandpa.  But it's not what you'd think.  The story takes place outside in a fanciful garden.  Or inside the child's imagination, it's up to you.  But just as one of the first pages says, "He was born a really long time ago, before computers or cell phones or television."  The book keeps us outside playing with the boy who is content to play alone, because his imagination is fertile: like kids had to be in the time before computers, cell phones, and television. It reminds me of those spring nights when the sun stayed up a little longer and we could play until the tips of our ears were cold and our lungs were hoarse from running, hiding, and finding each other in the twilight.  Smith's illustrations take us from topiaries that render books Grandpa read, like the Wizard of Oz, to exploding cannons in WWI.  As you might expect, green is the predominant color. It's just great.  Don't miss this one.

Lane Smith's topiary signature
The last honoree was John Rocco for his book, "Blackout," which told the story of the NYC blackout a few years before I moved here.  I remember it on the news and I remember thinking that the blackout we had in NC lasted for several days in the winter of 2002.  I had no power for nearly 3 days and some for as many as 10.  John Rocco takes this event in NYC, a city of lights, and indeed, excessive lights, to tell a gentle story of a family and a neighborhood coming together.  He plays on the concept of light and dark and shadows in a really interesting way.  My favorite scene was when the family ascends to the rooftop and there's a party in the sky, but better still, they can see the stars.  That's the one thing I miss most in NYC are the stars.  The light pollution is simply too strong to ever make out more than the moon and maybe brightest Jupiter if you're lucky.

Chatting up John Rocco
Rocco was nice enough to also take the time to chat with my about putting together my first portfolio for children's book publishers.  It's the kind of invaluable advice that I didn't expect to get, and made me really glad I went.

Rocco's signature, with the story's cat added in as a special touch

My nephew Ranald came along because he's also a big fan of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series (as was I, and I'm so sorry my brother Josh couldn't have made it, too).  Rocco illustrated the covers for those books, as you can see if you look on the back wall. He's sitting in front of a series of prints of his own work, how cool.  He was good enough to sign "The Last Olympian" for Ranald.

Look on the back wall, two lower rows: John Rocco and John Rocco prints. Awesome.  Here, Ranald, John Rocco, me, and Mike.