Thursday, October 7, 2010

Illustrating a Book!

Lulu, Bill’s favorite

I spent much of this past summer illustrating a wonderful book called All My Dogs: A Life. It’s a memoir by Bill Henderson, the founder of Pushcart Press, editor and publisher of the annual Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, now in its 34th year, author of four previous memoirs: His Son (Norton, 1981), Her Father (Faber and Faber, 1995), Tower: Faith, Vertigo and Amateur Construction (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), and Simple Gifts (Free Press, 2006), recipient of the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, a friend, and a neighbor.

Here’s Bill’s tower on Christy Hill in  Sedgwick.
He’s also built an octagonal writing studio and
a stone cathedral, the subject of his next memoir.

In All My Dogs, Bill writes “Many of my dogs taught me well. . . . Most of all they created home for me. From Philadelphia’s suburbs to the Maine seaside, home was where the dog was. In the years when I was dogless, I had no true home. In the golden dog days, I found family again.”

The book is due out next spring with David R. Godine, Publisher, one of the last remaining independent publishers in America, whom Bill brought by our house along with his son, Addison, last summer for an impromptu dinner of pasta with fresh tomato sauce from our garden. David writes in his 40th anniversary catalogue, “If you believe, as I do, that your work is the footsteps you leave in the sands of time, then every book you publish should contain the proof of that devotion and promise.” The Godine catalogue, which is a work of art itself, is full of beautifully designed books written and illustrated by illustrious authors, artists, and photographers. Bill Henderson will be right at home in their midst. I’m awestruck to be included.

I drew 13 dogs for the book. Of those 13 dogs, Bill only had one clear photograph of his favorite, Lulu. He had grainy shots of four other dogs—Trixie, Duke, Opie, and Max—which were helpful in getting a sense of their shapes and colors, but not clear enough for drawing purposes. He had two shots of Sophie, his yellow Lab, as a grown up, but he wanted a drawing of her as a puppy. He had no photos whatsoever of five of the dogs—Earl, Snopes, the Mayor of Bridgehampton, Ellen, and Rocky Raccoon. Rocky was not even a recognizable breed and, it turned out, almost defied description. I had to draw him three times before I got him right. Fortunately, I was able to take my own reference photos of Bill’s two remaining dogs—Franny and Sedgwick. But, for the most part, I had to start from scratch and cobble together composite portraits of many of the dogs in Bill’s life. It was a challenge, but Bill cheered me on in his exuberant, steadfast, and unconditional way. The book has a breed or mixed breed to please almost everyone—a spitz, a spaniel, a setter, two hounds, four retrievers, a terrier, a collie, and a Portie without papers.

Much as I’d love to show you my illustrations, I’m going to save them for when the book comes out. Here are a couple more photos of my subjects. I’ll keep you posted on publication dates, parties, etc.!


St. Francis of Assisi (AKA Franny)

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