Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dem Bones!

Returning to the illustrations of Lagos Segner; when I was a child, I loved this image of Daniel in the lion's den. What made it potent was the bones in the background. The bones proved that Daniel had been part of something miraculous -- if God hadn't protected him, he'd have ended up just like that unfortunate skeleton.

Like many children, I was fascinated by the symbols of death -- especially the pirate's skull and crossbones. Somehow taking on the power of the symbols, made me -- as a relatively powerless child -- more powerful in my imagination.

While I would have wanted to wear skull and crossbones duds as a child, I don't think I could bring myself to dress an infant in such imagery; but if you Google skull and crossbones baby clothes, you'll find thousands of images... and some are pretty cute.

Perhaps we're using the death images on baby clothes as talismans against death.

As a child, wearing such images felt like flirting with danger, as well as owning power over death by not fearing it. Of course, what I really wanted was protection danger -- that's what I saw in the Daniel story. The bones showed the danger was real, but Daniel's presence among them proved that God's salvation was just as real.

When I drew the story of St. Prisca being thrown the lions, I was liberal with sprinkling bones around the arena.

I hope that children reading about Prisca will find her tale all the more compelling, because the bones in the arena signal the expected outcome -- sans miracle. Prisca, like Daniel, so clearly survives because of God's intervention. The bones are also intended to add enough edge to induce pleasurable goosebumps in a small child.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ravens to the Rescue!

When I was two, I was given a book titled Bible Stories by my grandmother. It was a collection of Old Testament stories, with wonderful illustrations by Lajos Segner, that completely captured my imagination. Here is the one of my favorite pictures from the story Elijah Is Fed.

The cover of my Bible Stories has been missing as long as I remember. It's stained and torn, and there are some pencil scribbles over the text -- in other words, it was completely loved. I remember asking my mother to read me stories from this book, over and over, long before I learned to read.

In many ways, Bible Stories, was an inspiration for Holy Crocodile! The Old Testament animal stories were among my favorites, and the lush illustrations drew me in, while I listened to the words being read aloud. The format is similar too -- a collection of short stories, each matched by an illustration.

Here is the illustration to my own story Raven to the Rescue, from Holy Crocodile! What's missing from this picture, is the continuation of the image on the opposite page, which shows a little monk running to warn St. Benedict that his bread has been poisoned.

These two raven stories are almost mirror images of each other. Elijah is given bread by the ravens, to save his life. Benedict has his bread snatched away by a raven, to save his life. In both cases, the ravens act as a guardian angels, fulfilling the will of God.


A note about Bible Stories. This book was published by Whitman Publishing Co., Racine, WI. Whitman published children's books from the early 1900's into the mid 1970's. Bible Stories was originally copyrighted in 1950, and my addition appears to be from 1959. It's a slim book, and possibly was part of the "Golden Book" series (which Whitman published) -- but since I'm missing the cover, I can't be sure. The inside title page (and my de facto cover) says "Illustrations by Lajos Segner." Segner is credited with being the author and illustrator on the OCLC website. This book can still be found in a few libraries around the country:

Sadly, an Internet search turns up no information about Lajos Segner, except the above link.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Saintly Dog and a Favorite Saint

Saint Roch is very popular in Europe. You will see little statues of him and his dog, tucked in niches on street corners and in churches, across the continent. You can always recognize St. Roch because his dog is with him, holding a loaf a bread in his mouth. In addition, St. Roch always wears a shell the symbol of pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain (though he was a pilgrim to Rome, the Spanish shell is, and was, a more recognized pilgrim's symbol). He also typically points to a wound on his leg, symbolizing recovery from the Black Plague.

The Black Plague, or Black Death, was probably the worst pandemic in human history: killing an estimated 450 million people around the world; peaking in the 14th Century. It's estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe's population -- causing profound religious, social, and economic upheavals.

St. Roch interrupted his pilgrimage to nurse people who were sick with the plague, until he himself became infected. He recovered in large part because his dog brought him food and wouldn't give up on him. (Luckily, nowadays the plague is treatable with antibiotics.) It's because he's a patron saint against the plague, that his statue is found throughout Europe. He is also a patron of pilgrimage, and dog lovers like him too!

Here is a painting I did St. Roch and his dog. The model for the dog was my beloved dog, Joop.
Joop was kind-of greedy... I doubt he would have shared his bread gladly. But under extraordinary circumstances, he might have risen to the occasion; because despite his naughty ways, he was a good dog... like most all dogs... and a saintly presence in my life, by just being himself.

Here's the picture of St. Roch and his dog from Holy Crocodile! Notice how in, both my painting and my drawing, the loaf has a little bite taken out of it. Even though the dog is pretty much a saint to share it's bread -- it couldn't resist having a nibble first. And who can blame it? I'm sure St. Roch shared whatever he had with his dog... just like the dog shared with him.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saved by Sea Otters

Probably the first story I ever heard where an animal helped a saint was the story of St. Cuthbert. Cuthbert developed hypothermia and would have drowned if sea otters hadn't come to his aid.

This legend planted the seed for a series of saints and animal paintings, and lead to my researching and writing Holy Crocodile! 

The painting above of St. Cuthbert Saved by Sea Otters, is done in egg tempera paint on a wooden panel. (The moon in the painting was cut off in this picture, but he glows from the moonlight.)

Here's the drawing of St. Cuthbert from Holy Crocodile! The story still takes place at night, but the sky above St. Cuthbert is white because that where the text of the story goes.

It's hard to see in the painting, because the photo is so dark, but what I like best in both the painting and the drawing are the sea otters little pink tongues!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ever thought about medieval ships?

Two of my stories required drawing medieval ships. Above are a few of the images I found for references. I like the one with the flying fish best!

St. Modomnoc only had to sail across the Irish Sea in his boat... Good thing too, or his bees would have gotten too tired, and maybe drowned.

St. Brendan, on the other hand, had to spend seven years sailing his ship. It must have been stinky and crowded, but at least they stopped often in wondrous places... including their yearly Easter mass on the back of a whale! Here's a detail of his ship, anchored around the whale's tail.