Are We WHERE Yet?

I have been THERE, but I have not been HERE writing this blog for about six months. Life just got in the way, like it usually does when you juggle as many things as I do. At the end of September I moved my father into an Adult Family Home the same weekend that we had the funeral for my dear Mother-in-law. Then I spent months up to my eyeballs in filth and hoarded art, books, stuff- clearing out my father's mess, getting his condo fixed up (Thank you, Manning Sedgwick Realty) and sold.

Life is a crazy journey and my journey has been a very strange road trip. I dreamt of a wonderful creative life where I'd just be writing and illustrating and making books that people would love, and parts of that came true, but the way it happened wasn't very dreamy. It has not been easy juggling my career with my family, and I give birth to book ideas all the time, and then they have to sit and wait for me to be able to get to them.

"Are We There Yet?" my new book, which just came out on March 1st from my longtime publisher, Chronicle Books, was no exception. I originally conceptualized this book in June 2006 while I was driving to our home on Lummi Island.

For seven years I took numerous detours and had to deal with family crises that I wish upon no one. I only had two books come out in those seven years, my baby book, "Who Loves You, Baby?" and my cloth book, "Button Nose." I kept writing during that time. I even wrote a novel.

Finally in 2013 I was out of the worst of the nightmarish period and I was finally THERE. I created these detailed thumbnails for "Are We There Yet?" and submitted the book.

Then the journey took another detour that surprised me. I had submitted this book thinking that I was going to illustrate it, but I was not offered that opportunity. I was working on my "Peek-a Book" series at the time, so I let it go. I've been asked why I didn't illustrate it, and honestly, I don't have a good answer. What I will say is that Adam McCauley used my sketches as a launching point and added his cool details and did a masterful job. 

I've had a lot of fun "performing" "Are We There Yet?" in schools over the past two plus weeks- I have the kids play "the kid" and I play "the mom," and they love asking "are we there yet?" over and over as we go deeper into the journey of imagination, and when reality returns, and it seems "boring," then they get to say, "let's do it again!" 

I've also written the "Are We There Yet?" song- on my ukulele. When I get over being afraid of filming myself playing it, I'll share it here or there...

The next strange part of this journey is that there is another book of the exact same name coming out from Caldecott medalist, Dan Santat. I have not seen his book. I do not have his marketing, or his momentum. But I do have my own road and my own journey to stay on and enjoy the scenery- because the one thing I've learned after over twenty-two years of making children's books is that wherever you are, you are always THERE, and THERE is where you are meant to be.

I hope you will share some of my journey with me. 
I love having you all along for the ride...
And YES, we are there.



Octoberpus: A Month of Octopuses

It's been ages since I've posted. No need to go into details, but there have been family crises and obstacles and to put not-too-fine-a-point on it, things have sucked. So I decided to pull myself out of the cave and the pity party and do something completely weird and creative. I invented "Octoberpus." I've always loved cephalopods and I challenged myself to draw or paint one each day and post it on Facebook. The experiment worked. The creative juices flowed thanks to these little suckers. They were done on the fly, in hotels, in doctor's waiting rooms, at night before bed, in between finishing the art for my next "peek-a book." Some are scanned and others are just taken with my iPhone. I hope you enjoy them- they are all the product of my strange imagination and various techniques that I play with as sketches- whether in ink or paint- these are not "finished illustrations."

On October 26 and 27 my plate was too full, so I posted two octopuses from the recent past.
I drew this Rugged Beauty for a line of jewelry I'm making.
This one was a quick cartoon with an octopus riding a bicycle- my statement on how being on a device keeps you from seeing the world around you.
There you have it! Thirty-one days of octopuses. I hope you found some you liked... and I imagine this will be spawning future projects for me. I already have a picture book concept going. 

I highly recommend doing something like this- whether you are sketching something or writing something every day for a month just to sharpen your imagination. 
Happy creating!


In The Winter That Felt Like Spring

Yesterday I took a very long walk on the beach. On my way down the road I noticed that the skunk cabbage had come up. This has always been a harbinger of Spring. I took a photo to document that on February 11, 2015, Spring had arrived on Lummi Island. This disturbed me on so many levels. I have always felt a deep connection to nature, it grounds me and inspires me. This year the snows in the Northeast and the complete lack of snow here in the Northwest seem to be like yin and yang pulling apart. A de-polarization if you will. 

As I walked on the beach a poem, or a song, came to me... so I stopped and pulled out my iPhone and opened the "Notes" app and tapped in the lines in my head. Then I kept walking and as other lines came to me I stopped and disconnected from my search for depth, meaning and treasure to tap in the other lines with my index finger. (I just can't type with my thumbs.) When I returned to my studio, the poem/song came to life in my journal, and then I edited it on my computer. I do want to put it to music, but there is also a part of me that wishes this could be a picture book. I think this is a subject that we all need to discuss. 

Here is what I wrote. I hope it moves you.


In the winter that felt like spring
The snows didn’t come
The birds never left
The salmon didn’t run
The rains never stopped
The rivers flooded the land
We wondered what was next
In this godforsaken plan.

In the winter that felt like spring
The trees bloomed too soon
The bees didn’t come
No fruit hung in June
The moss grew like a carpet
The weeds didn’t die
Land slid around us
Pollen filled the sky.

In the winter that felt like spring
Followed by a summer full of drought
There was record-setting heat
And algae-blooms, no doubt.
Many crops were ruined
Rivers ran too low
Electricity prices climbed
Solar power needs to grow.

In the winter that felt like spring
Would anyone heed the warning
These signs are all pointing
To certain global warming.

The tides are rising higher
The forest is on fire
Science is no liar
The situation is dire
Better set things straight
Before it is too late
Or there will be no songs to sing
In the winter that felt like spring.

©Nina Laden 2015


Tiny Little Resolutions: Painting My Way Into the New Year

I run hot and cold on the idea of New Year's resolutions. After almost 53 years on this planet I pretty much know what I should or shouldn't be doing, but I have to admit that last year took a bit of a toll and some things slid. I decided that I would paint my resolutions instead of just writing them down.

These are all painted on tiny (2" x 3 1/2") pieces of cardboard. They are the exact same size as a business card, in fact they came between business cards that I had printed for me about 25 years ago. Back in the day of real offset printing, when you printed on glossy card stock, any printer worth his salt (this was Brad Moon of Printing Dispatch) would put cardboard between every printed piece to prevent the ink from bleeding on to the card on top. I saved the stack of cardboard, and over the years I've done little paintings on the pieces.

In doing these seven "tiny little resolutions" I did not do any sketches or drawings. I randomly chose background colors, painted the words for the resolution, and then picked up my paint brush, squeezed out blobs of Holbein Acryla gouache and just painted whatever came to mind. These were not only exercises in resolving to do better in the next year, they were also exercises in not over-thinking the imagery. These are done in the spirit of fun and folk art, a style I adore because it gets the message across without being fussy or too darn finished.

I hope you enjoy my "Tiny Little Resolutions" and take some of them to heart.










pLAying: exploring imagination

Getting out of your home and your routine helps foster creativity. At least that is how it works for me. I took off for a brief trip to LA six days ago for a book event and to catch up with one of my childhood best friends. I also knew that I needed to have "fun" and break the stranglehold of stress that had been permeating my life. I brought a pouch of multi-colored pencils and a Japanese brush pen.

The brush pen immediately spoke to me and said: I am the calligraphy of palm trees. You are in LA. You need to pLAy... so I began pLAying with palm imagery and the LA or in some cases, CA (for California) sound.

The journey began with an "imaginary LAndscape." And then it started to get surreal.
The multi-color leads led to fantastic color possibilities.
The thesaurus helped me name this one, "ObLAtion"- or offering.
I love to pLAy ukulele... and so does my friend Judy's step-daughter, Alice. I was staying in their home, so I drew another version of this and gave it to Alice.
Judy's other step-daughter, Emma is making a documentary on the Pantone color system. So I drew this for her. I used to work with Pantone all the time when I was a graphic designer.

After three and a half days in LA I was on the plane headed home... and sketched the whole way.
I had been in LA for the "A Letter to My Cat" private book launch party. I contributed a letter to the book. Cats were on my mind, and I missed my dear kitty, Marley. This is a "CAt"- a California cat.
As we flew further away, palm trees were receding in my thoughts, so I started playing with other things- taking names like "cock tail" literally.
But the palm trees came back once more as I thought about the delicious uni Judy and I shared at The Hungry Cat restaurant the night before. 
As we flew over the Cascade Mountains towards Washington I thought about our pine trees and our amazing apples...
...and as we began our descent into the Seattle area, head still in the clouds, I put my pencils and pen away knowing that this journey was over, but the journey of imagination would never end.

Wherever you go- in reality, or in your imagination, I hope you have a great trip!

With Love,