Resurrecting Melvin

I started an idea for a children’s book about 20 years ago. How do I remember that? I got out the sketchbooks I’d begun it in all those years ago and checked out the handy dates I’d written on the front! Poor Melvin Moody had sat inside those sketchbooks for all those years! Truth is, I wasn’t sure how to approach the story I had inside my head nor how to put it together in a logical and entertaining manner. Then…there’s the art and the pacing of that. Oy!! Well….

Last year the wonderful Highlights Foundation announced its upcoming schedule of workshops and I saw one titled “Crafting a Dummy with Heart and Soul”. Yes!! I applied for a scholarship right away. THIS is another reason the Foundation is so great: They offer scholarships to their workshops for folks who are serious about their craft but can’t swing the fee. Having to put work aside for a few days in addition to the fee and travel expenses would have really been a big hit to my wallet. When I received news that I’d receive partial payment, I signed up right away.

The class would be taught by Floyd Cooper and Melanie Hall, two folks with a ton of experience and honors under their belts. I’ve admired Floyd’s work for many years but it was the first time I’d met Melanie. They turned out to be a perfect match. Melanie is more of a “free spirit” in her approach to the art of children’s books and Floyd is an old-school illustration guy. I loved them both, two fantastic artists available for my every question for 3 whole days! We also had a couple of guest artists come to visit and share their work.

One of Floyd’s oil paintings

Melanie’s Dog Following Horse Riders

All of this took place at the Foundation campus outside of Honesdale, PA in Boyds Mills. The Campus is located on the farm of Highlights Founders Gary and Caroline Myers. Not only is it a beautiful place to stay but the food is fantastic as well! The workshop was attended by only ten of us and we all got along famously. Fun and hard work coupled with a cocktail hour and good food makes for fast friends.

The workshop began with a tough exercise: Illustrate one of two poems however you’d like. I found it really difficult, mostly because they were fairly abstract poems and nothing straightforward jumped out as a subject. The one I finally settled on was this poem by William Blake

The Marmalade Man Makes a Dance to Mend Us

Tigers, sunflowers, king of cats,
Cow and Rabbit, mend your ways.
I the needle, you the thread-
follow me through mist and maze.

Fox and hound, go paw in paw.
Cat and rat be best of friends.
Lamb and Tiger, walk together.
Dancing starts were fighting ends.

After staring at the paper and out into space while doodling for an hour or so I finally had an epiphany: I’d draw the Marmalade Man himself, dancing while holding a giant needle and the thread would trail behind him, forming the animals and flowers in knots and tangles. It was an excellent exercise that put me into the right frame of mind: Open for creative thought.
During this time we were being called aside to present our book ideas and portfolios to Floyd and Melanie.
Let the workshop begin!

So, to make a long story a little bit shorter: We all worked our asses off and each wound up with a pretty good dummy to fine-tune when we got home. I’m terribly excited to get Melvin Moody out there! Thanks so much to Melanie, Floyd and our guest artist, Suzanne Bloom. Here are a few more photos :

Rich Powell

I'm an artist/illustrator residing in a small, North Carolina town. I worked for a few years as a conceptual artist and art director in the computer game industry but set off on my own to freelance. I currently do humorous illustration and cartoons for publications such as MAD Magazine and Highlights for Children.

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5 Responses

  1. Alex Forsyth says:

    If your spelling was half as good as your drawing skills Rich you would be a very rich man! Love the drawings as always and good to see you last week. Come and see us with Bailey anytime!

  2. Mike Shinn says:

    I am a great admirer of your wit and creative talents; cannot wait to purchase a copy of Melvin Moody. Stay inspired!

  3. paulajbecker says:

    Great share, Rich! Sounds like you had an inspiring time! I attended the same workshop the year before. Loved it and was encouraged a lot. So I was wondering if you do anything to keep the momentum going. Did you find or form an accountability group? Just curious! Good luck with Melvin Moody

    • Rich Powell says:

      Excellent question and We DID! Only one of us is posting much there though. I came home to a pile of work and an upcoming art show. I’m planning on getting on the book in October! Thanks Paula!!

      • paulajbecker says:

        Great! We did, too! Same results, though. No much sharing. And it didn’t become the type of accountability group I probably need. Well, alright! Good you have a target date! Best!

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