Tulip the Swan

Earlier this spring, while on a morning walk, I happened upon a most memorable front yard. The landscaping consisted of three beautifully simple ingredients: a blanket of lush, overgrown grass, a scattering of candy-coloured tulips, and a kitschy plastic swan placed proudly in the centre, but mostly obscured by the surrounding vegetation.

I’ve since named her Tulip and she’s inspired me to write the following poem, as well as collage a new piece of art.


There is a swan / who lives in a lawn / of towering tulips and sod.
Her neck, stiff and starched /  and pleasantly arched / dips into a neighbourly nod.
“Hello”, I did say / and, “How is your day?” / while admiring her palace of green.
I kid you not / I most certainly thought / I heard her say, “Oh, peachy-keen.”

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Can you spot the swan?

(I biked by this same yard recently, and as suspected, the tulips have since run their course. What a pleasant surprise to see a cascade of daisies had taken their place!)

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Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones


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Do you remember being little and always wanting “up”?

I sure do! Nothing quite matched the thrill of riding on my dad’s shoulders; the toys on the floor shrinking in importance as I was elevated up to his height.

This makes me think of the film, Dead Poet’s Society. In it, Robin Williams plays an English teacher who instructs his prep students to stand on their desks in order to see the world from a new point of view.

Standing on a desk, climbing up a mountain and being carried as a baby are all very different experiences, sure, but they all cause a temporary shift in one’s perspective. Perhaps that baby you see peeking out from his mom’s snugli is not only hitching a ride, but also learning what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

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Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones is my newest illustrated children’s book with Owlkids. Written by Susan Hughes, Up! takes the reader on a baby carrying journey across the globe. Some scenes depict culturally specific ways of carrying babies, while others are more universal. Overall, it’s a nice mix, and one that seems realistic in this fast-paced, ever-changing globalized world we live in.

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Making a children’s book is a lot of work, and not simply for the author and illustrator. There are so many talented, dedicated people at Owlkids, working behind the scenes to put books like these together. Thanks especially to my editor, Debbie Rogosin, art director, Barb Kelly and publisher, Karen Boersma. Thanks also to  Judy Brunsek, Allison Maclachlan and Jemicah Marasigan for getting my books “out there”, and for making this awesome book trailer (see below).

You can purchase this book here.

Asian Carp

Two summers ago, I tried out fly fishing for the first time. Up until then, I had viewed fly fishing as some sort of lazy, privileged sport that old men do in retirement. I blame Freedom 55 commercials for that.

But, after a day-long introduction, guided by my friend Rob Cesta of Drift Outfitters, I saw the sport in a completely different light. Fly fishing wasn’t the same as simple bait and hook fishing: it was an art. And to acquire such an art and be successful at it, one had to possess a deep understanding of the complex ecosystems they were stepping their feet into.

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I learned that those Dr. Seuss-looking lures are actually handcrafted to mimic very season-specific prey, and like a puppet on a string, the fly fisher must maneuver it convincingly. It’s a dance that celebrates one’s awareness with their environment.

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Okay, so I got a little philosophical there, but it leads me to my next topic: The Asian Carp Invason.

“What is the Asian Carp invasion?” you might ask. Well, that was my same question when Art Director Steven Balaban of Evermaven contacted me concerning a public awareness video they were making on the topic. (The clients were the ROM and the Department of Fisheries & Oceans Canada.)

After a simple YouTube search, I was horrified. There I saw the amount of damage this particular species of fish can have on entire lakes and waterways: nothing but carp and more carp, jumping every which way as boats motor through them.

It’s been a growing problem along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, and sadly, those rivers eventually lead up to the Great Lakes. The only way we can help stop the invasion is to recognize the four species of invasive carp and report if we see them.

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Here’s a process shot of the five species of carp I made for the video. Starting at the top and going down are the following: Bighead Carp, Common Carp (not a threat), Grass Carp, Black Carp and Silver Carp.

Below are some of the scenes I illustrated for the video. Thanks to animator Alan Osborne, these scenes were brought to life!

Here’s the video link: http://evermaven.com/portfolio/asian-carp/

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moose, marsh, heron

fishing, boat, asian carp

So, perhaps we should be a little more like my friend Rob, the fly fishing guide. Opening our eyes and being aware of the native species that share our environment just might help save them.

How to make Kyle!

I’ve cut out a lot of sloths this past year. The one I created for this video was by far the most memorable, thanks to the mechanics involved in shooting a time-lapse.

Although a little hard to see, the photo below shows where the camera was situated above my desk. What is just outside of the frame, to the top right, is the large strobe we used for lighting. (Kevin is pictured setting up the laptop to receive the files as we shoot. Our two cats, Toy and Nori, are passing through, clearly unaware of the movie-making masterpiece we are about to create.)

Kyle Goes Alone, studio shot, video shoot, time-lapse, sloth video, how to make a sloth

The camera was programmed to shoot every 5 seconds and so coinciding with each shot came a blast of light from the strobe. That awareness of time passing in the form of strobes makes for a very interesting art-making experience. The pressure felt kind of similar to writing a high school exam with minutes ticking away.

Kyle Goes Alone, Owlkids, sloth, paper cut illustration, children's book illustration, Ashley Barron

People often ask me how long it takes to produce my art, and I never have a clear answer. Thanks to the mathematics of this shoot, I can confirm that this particular Kyle piece took just under two hours. (I had initially typed “half an hour” into this post before asking Kevin to confirm…that just demonstrates how flawed my memory is when it comes to this stuff!)

So thank you, Kevin, for making this time-lapse possible and for reminding me how long my art actually takes. And thank you to Allison MacLachlan and the rest of the Owlkids team for putting this video together to help promote Kyle Goes Alone.

If you want to see more videos like this, I suggest checking out Owlkid’s new hub for behind the book features called The Inside Track. It’s an especially great resource for teachers and librarians.
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Kyle Goes Alone

Last year around this time, my life seemed to revolve around this desk.

Studio shot, Kyle goes alone, sloth art

Amidst piles of green and blue painted sheets of paper, penciled up tracing paper, stacks of book-marked reference materials and a confetti explosion of foliage and vine pieces, a little sloth named Kyle was being born.

Kyle Goes Alone, children's book, kid lit, sloth, sloth book, three toed sloth

Kyle was initially shy and fearful of the vast rainforest I was creating around him. All of those blues and greens made him feel cold and lonesome. His little brown body eagerly clung to the vines I cut for him.

leaf cutter ants, kyle goes alone, rainforest, paper collage

Little by little, and I mean little, I introduced some friends into the scenes for Kyle to meet. Some had six legs. Others had two. Some were green while others were red. And some had tiger stripes even though they weren’t actually a tiger.

tiger striped tree frog, rainforest frog, kyle goes alone, paper art

I didn’t want to startle Kyle, so I made sure to introduce the friends gradually, only showing pieces of them at first. Can you spot two in the scene below?

Kyle goes alone, sloth in tree, paper illustrations

After a while, something changed in Kyle. The greens and blues of the rainforest didn’t feel cold and lonely to him. A little smile even started to form on his face and he was ready to share his story with the rest of the world.

Kyle Goes Alone, three toed sloth, kid lit, sloth book, Ashley Barron, Jan Thornhill, owlkids

Kyle Goes Alone is a delightful story about a baby sloth’s first taste of independence and how he overcomes his fear of “going alone”. It’s written by Jan Thornhill, published my Owlkids and illustrated by yours truly.

I hope Kyle finds his way into your heart as he has mine.

Banana Leaves

Sometimes the best ideas are so obvious that you almost skip over them. That was certainly the case for this summer’s Leaves of Trees window display.

One afternoon, while Roohi and I were brainstorming ideas at her shop, a customer overheard our conversation and suggested we simply put a bunch of leaves in the window to go along with the name Leaves of Trees. We took his advice.

banana leaf sketchbook window display

The initial plan was to create a tropical leafy paradise out of paper which would act as a back drop for a new product being launched. Above are some early sketches.

I was fortunate to be working alongside my friend and fellow illustrator, Elena Viltovskaia, again. (See my Paper Poppies post for our last collaboration.) After experimenting with different tropical leaf shapes we decided to keep it simple by just focusing on our favourite one: the mighty Banana Leaf!

paper banana leaf, window display, Leaves of Trees

Seamless green-screen paper turned out to be our star material. Because it comes in a roll, the paper is permanently curved, and when folded and creased against this curve, it creates just the right shape to mimic a banana leaf!

paper banana leaves, green screen paper

After everything was cut and creased, we drew on the veins using pencil crayon. Subtle strokes of turquoise blue and lime green spray paint were applied as a final touch to help accentuate the edges and add some colour variation.

banana leaf installation

A nice mid-installation shot taken by Roohi. (Elena’s on the left and I’m on the right.)

paper banana leaves, tropical window display, headache balm, leaves of trees

The window had to be attractive from both the inside and the outside. Floating leaves were the answer, and luckily we had made just the right amount!

leaves of trees store front, banana leaves, paper leaves, headache balm

Now that it’s mid-summer, I’ve got to start thinking about a new window display theme for fall and winter. Any suggestions out there? I’m all ears!

Leaves of Trees is located at 177 Queen St. East in Toronto. http://leavesoftrees.com

Here’s a template to make your own banana leaves: bananaleaf_template

Painted Ladies

Have you ever witnessed a butterfly break free of it’s cocoon? I had always imagined the molting process as being long and gradual; something one surely wouldn’t miss in the blink of an eye.

Last week my neighbour, Kathryn, called me up in an hurry, asking if I wanted to come over and witness a chrysalis hatching. (Kathryn’s son is an insect enthusiast and for the past two years, they’ve ordered Painted Lady Caterpillar kits through the mail.) I went over not knowing what to expect. On their kitchen table sat a netted enclosure (which looked like a collapsible laundry hamper) with cocoons pinned to the inside wall. Eight butterflies had hatched earlier that morning and were now flexing their wings along the mesh wall. Lucky for me, there were still 6 cocoons remaining. The one we focused our attention on had a deeper colour showing through the chrysalid shell…a sign it could open any second.

painted lady butterfly cocoon

Kathryn and I sat in front of the hamper with our eyes glued to the cocoon. Sure enough, a little break started to form along the cocoon’s side, and then within seconds, out popped the butterfly! As it pumped up it’s wings, a red liquid trickled down. What I thought was blood was actually a substance called Meconium: a metabolic waste product from the pupal stage. You can see the red stains from the process in the above photo.

Toy and the butterflies

Butterflies are pretty low maintenance, however, they do require a a fresh supply of fruit to feed from until their release. Because Kathryn and her family were heading out camping that weekend, I was delighted to be given the task of butterfly sitter. Toy, our cat, was equally delighted and kept a close watch on her new flitty friends.

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I was able to make some sketches while the butterflies were resting. The top and bottom of the Painted Lady wings are so different in colour and pattern.

painted butterfly sketch

The underwing has such a sophisticated pallet of chocolate browns, honey browns, creams and clever hits of turquoise and sky blue.

painted lady butterfly wing eating

Perhaps next year I’ll order a butterfly kit of my own. It would be neat to witness the caterpillar stage all the way through to the big, final release!


Hello

My name is Ashley Barron and I'm a Toronto based illustrator. This is my online show & tell of new artwork and anything else I find inspiring. Thanks for taking a look :)

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Morning stretches. Little Thief! 💚 with @_jenbarron_ How to spot invasive Asian Carp in the Great Lakes. 🐟
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A clip from the educational video I worked on with @evermaven last summer. (Produced with @romtoronto for the Department of Fisheries & Oceans Canada.) AD: Steve Balaban
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You can help the Department of Fisheries & Oceans Canada by reporting any Asian Carp you may see this summer. Keep on climbing lil guy! #climbinghydrangea Haven't the heart to trim those sun rays just yet. ☀️
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#bookcover  #kidlitart #papercollage #wip #cutpaperart #mrsun #illustration #rainbow #tbt to this happy little sunflower. 🌊 Yesterday's #wip.