childrensillustrations - Ed Koehler's Latest Blog Articles View Ed Koehler's Latest Blog Articles Oh, Tannenbaum!   Wie treu sind deine Blätter! Even if you don’t speak German you may know the song. Roughly translated, that line is “How faithful are your leaves!” A Tannenbaum is a fir, or evergreen tree. This song was a standard in the predominantly German neighborhood in which I grew up. We learned it in grade school and relearned it in high school German class, along with Stille Nacht. To Tree, or Not to Tree, That is the Question. As we near December, certain things can be counted on. News magazines will yet again publish their glossy special editions investigating the “real” Jesus; bumper stickers will remind us of the reason for the season, and a certain religious group will knock on my door offering a free magazine that explains the nefarious origin of the Christmas tree. Lest this group be singled out, my own religious group has branches that have, in days past, banned Christmas altogether. For most of you this is probably a non-issue. For others you may have found yourself in heated discussion about the pros and cons of lighting up a tree in your living room. The cons argue that trees were worshipped by pagans, and this holiday in particular goes back to the celebration of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival that took place this time of year. The pros argue “so what?” and claim the freedom to rearrange it all into a Christian observance. The evergreen represents eternal life, the lights remind us of the Light of the World (Jesus), and gift giving reflects the greatest Gift Giver of all. Suffice to say the discussion can become very involved and I won’t resolve it in these few paragraphs. I lean to the “pro” argument, but I won’t go to the wall over it. We put up the tree, but we don’t dance around it. When the certain religious group shows up with the magazine, the tree at least serves as a springboard to talk about deeper things than a fake fir with baubles. Trees I Have Known. I’m going to walk through the woods of various Christmas trees in my memory. Most trees of my youth were real. Always a balsam fir for us. The challenge was to find one that was evenly branched on all sides, not too tall, but not too squatty. This balsam species was not lush like a Douglas fir or Scotch pine. They had nice open spaces between each row of branches, which allowed for long strands of tinsel, and the big lights that were popular at the time. Later we transitioned to the artificial tree. It might have been a let down at first, but I grew to prefer it. It was always full (no bare spot that had to face the wall) and it didn’t dry up and pose a threat. The newer style small lights looked more up to date than the old ones. Then there was the Aluminum Tree. I often refer to this as the “Tavern Tree”. Our neighborhood was full of taverns. If I recall, their seasonal decor of choice was a silvery aluminum tree with uniform one color ornaments and a color wheel that gave this modern spectacle a rotating aura of red, green, yellow, and blue. On rare occasions I would happen upon one of these gems in a private home, which I immediately associated with unbridled wealth. To me they looked amazingly modern and expensive. And futuristic. This was the kind of tree we would put up in our space colonies. As wondrous as that tree was, my favorite childhood tree belonged to my grandparents. It was white. Flock, I think they call it. An aluminum tree had space-age excitement going for it, but this white tree was something else. It didn’t look old, it didn’t look new. It looked exotic, like it came from a forest in Narnia (though I never heard of Narnia back then). I think it added to the charm that it was only a few feet tall, since it sat on a table that served more as a pedestal for this fine fake fir.  Feeling festive about these various trees compelled me to create a fun one for my Christmas card. I went for a bit of a fifties look. Once I got going on the filigree-tipped branches I decided it needed an in-between color, rather than a standard spruce green. Hence the slightly off 1957 aquamarine. Thanks for joining me on my journey through Christmas trees past. If you have any favorite holiday decorations, please share. Thanks for reading. Christmas Tree ©2017 Ed Koehler Tue, 28 Nov 2017 20:26:06 +0000 Galileo  I'm in an astronomical mood once again. Some time ago, earlier this year, I drew Astronomy Girl, that big-headed kid gazing up at the stars. That was followed by last month's Corn Moon, the big orange moon waking from a daytime sleep to light up the night. Today it's Galileo. I'm currently reading Galileo's Daughter, A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel. Ms. Sobel has also written A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. Galileo's Daughter was nominated for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. As many of you know, I started my professional art career at The McDonnell Planetarium in St. Louis, MO. Astronomy was the class I took to satisfy my college Fine Art curriculum's science requirement. I'm no expert in the field, but it would easily be my favorite science subject. Most things I create have a nod toward children's books or curriculum. Those have been my bread and butter over the years. I can still recall the images that made an impact on me as a kid, and I hope my work leaves memorable impressions. Some of the things that grabbed my juvenile, and somewhat short, attention was the way shapes interacted in a picture. Negative space (a misnomer, as no part of an illustration is "negative") usually has the most fun, surprising bits of visual info. A random triangle, or an organic blob that grows between the main features are a lot of fun for me. Thanks for taking a look at Galileo, or If I can be of service, I assure you, I'll shoot for the stars. Tue, 24 Oct 2017 03:26:31 +0100 The Element of Surprise  One of the joys of being a children's book illustrator is the frequency with which I get to create whimsical animals. I'm not a nature artist in the traditional sense, so I don't often paint realistic flora and fauna. My animals lean cute, or as I tell my clients, I'm on a scale of whimsy to whacky.  Lately I've been drawing a lot of creatures, animal and human, directly on the tablet, with no preliminary sketches. My recent Astronomy Girl, Wait-Up, assorted lightbulb characters, and others have been drawn this way. There's a method to my whimsy.  For my assignments I certainly produce preliminary roughs for approval from my clients. These impromptu pieces, like this polar guy, are done with no forethought other than a desire to be spontaneous, fun, and direct. I start with a shape, like a nose, a circle, or an organic form, and see where it goes. The method, if any, is to think visually and quickly, so that I'm the one surprised by what happens. The idea is that if I get a kick out of it, so will my audience.  I will disclose that when I found out my playing around was turning into a polar bear, I did pull out a photo reference just to make sure it looked more like one than not. The reference helped settle the proportions and features that define polar bear.  When I discuss my whimsy to whacky scale with a client, so as to discern which direction they want to go, I like to add that if at some point I laugh while I'm working on their project, that means they will be getting my best work. It's always best if I'm as surprised by the fun as they are. It looks to me like this polar bear is as surprised to see me as I was to see him. I'm glad he's smiling.    Thu, 12 Oct 2017 15:12:58 +0100 Sicilian Defense  As I continue to play with these simple circles, I'm kind of surprised by what I come up with. All these simply start with a circle. No preliminary sketches, and truth be told, no actual idea.  First I drew two circles. I picked the green and blue from my custom color library (the one I call Urban Garden) and started coloring. I like this sort of Picasso-esque thing with the noses halving the head. If you squint, you'll see that they form a profile within a three quarter view of the head. Mentally erase the shaded part of the circle and you'll see remaining a satisfactory profile in a cartoonish style.  From there it was only a matter of deciding what these two round heads are doing. My first thought was to have them watching a flea circus. Seriously. But fleas are pretty small. How about playing a game? So there it went.  I know the moves in chess, but not the strategy. I thought it best to illustrate something realistic about the game. A quick search came up with The Sicilian Defense.  To me the odd palette with the off-color faces somehow captures a cool level of concentration, even while blue man whistles with confidence as he counters the white pawn opening at E4 with black pawn to C5. #chess  Sicilian Defense ©2017 Ed Koehler Fri, 15 Sep 2017 20:57:16 +0100 Moonrise   Of course the big astronomical event happened on August 21, with the solar eclipse. I didn't catch it, but for me, the Harvest Moons, or these earlier Corn Moons, are spectacular sights, and I don't need special glasses to enjoy them. With the moon approaching fullnes in two days, I drew up this image called Moonrise. This man in the moon is waking from his daytime sleep with a stretch and a yawn. Now he's ready for a good night's work, brightening the sky to help farmers harvest late into the night.  Shine on, shine on harvest (or corn) moon, up in the sky!  I hope you like my series of big round headed illustrations. Thanks for reading! Tue, 05 Sep 2017 02:01:14 +0100 Singing Squirrel  I think most kids adopt a neighborhood squirrel at some point. We had a regular visitor for a fair part of one childhood summer. Of course I fed him nuts and with each feeding he became more trusting of our relationship. Eventually he confidently climbed onto the decorative metal work of our screen door, gazing into our living room, looking for his supper. We would chat, the squirrel and I. It seemed one sided, but I appreciated him being a good listener. Children's cartoons are built on talking and singing animals and I think there is something deep within us that would like to communicate with these critters. With a bit of free time today, I imagined a squirrel settled high in a tree, and spontaneously breaking into song. Squirrels sometimes make that faint chirp sound, but how great would it be if they could belt out a tune? This one has stage presence, with arm extended, bellowing the last line of "My Way". He's a schmaltzy lounge squirrel, but he gets to pick the tune; I just draw him. Sing your heart out squirrel. Your bag of nuts is in the mail. Singing Squirrel ©2017 Ed Koehler Mon, 21 Aug 2017 14:24:10 +0100 C'mon Rusty, You Can Do It!  Marquette Pool, a public facility in our city, was pretty much an everyday destination when I was a kid. It was quite a few miles from my home, but that didn’t stop us from rolling up our trunks in a towel and walking the distance to get some relief from the sweltering St. Louis sun. Relief came in the way of 45 minute swim shifts. The popularity of this large pool was such that groups had to take turns. The waiters stood in a fenced in, black asphalted holding area while the waders enjoyed their 45 minutes of fun in the sun. Once the whistle blew, the first shift would file out, while the second dove in. The pool is L shaped. The larger rectangle of water was a reasonable 3 to 6 feet depth, whereas the narrower section that formed the L bottomed out at 10 or 12 feet. This is where the high dive lived. The diving boards, one near the surface and the other, an apparent several hundred feet above ground, were for those who possessed skills of an extraordinary nature. Those skills belonged to the teenagers. When you are nine or ten years old, a teenager is an amazing creature in whose presence you bow and scrape. My nine year old self, along with my eight year old sister, who was wearing a twelve year old rubber swimming cap (required) would gaze in awe as teenagers ascended the high dive to gloriously swoop into the watery abyss. These were our future astronauts, Green Berets, Hall of Famers, and Miss Universes. As all eight and nine year olds do, we aspired to be like them. Our teenage years were still decades away, so far as we could count, but sometimes we would screw up the courage to follow in their steps. Their steps led up the hundreds, maybe thousands, of rungs on the high dive ladder. Only the strongest of nine year old hearts could take this challenge. Is Rusty up to it? He made it this far, but now the hour of decision is upon him. He can, as many before him have, shimmy backwards onto the ladder and descend in shame. If he does, his only hope is that all his friends will develop inexplicable amnesia and have absolutely no recall of his cowardly retreat. He’s quivering on the brink. His friends cheer him, his fears grip him, his legs tremble. He closes his eyes and . . . C’mon Rusty, you can do it! C’mon Rusty, you can do it! ©2017 Ed Koehler Wed, 02 Aug 2017 18:50:05 +0100