For Our Grandmas

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ok, get ready for some goosebumps and watch this movie Cecil Castellucci made in honor of her Grandmother for today-the release of Grandma's Gloves! I love this little movie so much:

I think I should take a moment for my own grandmas too. When I got the manuscript, both of them had just recently passed, and both were very close to me. It was difficult at first, but cathartic to paint through it. I had brilliant models for my Grandma's Gloves grandma: Pocca and Nana.


Pocca was Scottish, an accordian player/mother of 5/saint who spoke in the softest southern accent, hugged with the strongest arms, and had a love of endless puns, JOTTO, and children. She let me name her anything I wanted which was "Mocha Pocha" for no apparent reason, so she became Pocca (pronounced "polka") to us all. She always put playtime, imagining and her strong faith before anything "real" and would defend these things fiercely. We lived downstairs for a while, and she and Pop Pop lived upstairs. She had painted toenails. She was one of those high-cheekboned southern beauties in the reel-to-reels, and her family traces their roots back to the Scottish Munroe clan with a castle. She was adept at drawing children's faces and painting cats. One of the last memories I have of her is saving a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. Above: Pocca, Pop Pop, sisters and I on our front porch.


Gloria Denos was my red-haired grandma; an Italian, sauce-making, trend-spotting, feisty little lady with a sarcastic sharp wit and a generous and vulnerable heart. She made us a giant Christmas tree out of presents every year, and called jeans "dungarees". She loved CSI, late night TV, and was more private with her spirit and thoughts, but we later found her journals full of dreams about angels. One of eleven children. She was always our honored guest at Thanksgiving and she saved every single tiny card or drawing from every child, we found them all organized in albums after she died. She would do anything to protect what she loved. She teased, demanded kisses on the cheek, and wore slippers when she came to visit us (and it was the coziest thing ever if Nana came to visit). Her teasing nickname for me was "Shirley". Her handing writing always slanted to the left. Above: Nana and I on the back porch circa 1983.

These ladies loved me in a way that formed me and my art-making.

When I sat down with the manuscript many times, I would just watch flickers of them. I cried a lot too. Due to this emotional struggle and the invigorating stylistic challenge (you can see my growth in the concept art all the way back to 2006 below) this book was the most pivotal work for me of any assignment thus far. I remember beginning and drawing grandma after grandma on loose pieces of paper. I struggled with achieving the "perfect grandma". Concept work 2006-2008, click to enlarge:

The line I loved most of Cecil's in her description of Grandma, was "I run to her and she folds me in her fleshy arms for a big kiss." I decided to make my starting point those soft arms because I knew them well (they were Pocca's). The long string that attaches her glasses belongs to Pocca too. Grandma's spunk and short haircut is Nana's and she is most present in that kitchen scene with her chin in her hand, taking a gossipy story in.
I think a lot of the gardener element and funky clothes, especially in the sunflower scene, are my own mother. Because of her, no matter where we lived, or what our situation was, we were spoiled by her spilling wildflower gardens. She is a passionate gardener and mother. She is not a grandma yet, but she is part of that maternal love that follows you around into stories when you are illustrating things like hugs, and children. The book is dedicated to her for that reason.

I gave this book to Pop Pop (Pocca's husband and my grandfather) for his surprise 80th last weekend. I told him he'd be able to spot Pocca and the "old days" in there. So grateful to have him.

So this a post for the GRANDMAS! For Nana and Pocca and Cecil's grandmother who gave her rich stories in a toaster, and of course for all of the grandmas with us or gone ahead. And Grandmas: your grandchildren will always remember you at your best times, the time you made for us, what your hugs smell like, and how you never forgot to water your violets

---"She's forgotten it all," Mama says sadly.
I tell Mama and the nurse that Grandma didn't forget to water the plants in her room.
They are big and green, and the violets are blooming---
August 10, 2010


Lauren Castillo said...

Julia, this is such a touching post. Congratulations on an absolutely beautiful book~~I had the pleasure of reading Grandmas Gloves last week, and it was a wonderful combination of image and text :)

Nina Crittenden said...


Brooke Boynton-Hughes said...

oy... your post made me cry. I think I'll go call my grandma. And after that, I think I'll go find a copy of Grandma's Gloves. Its really wonderful to see your concept sketches and to see the stages that you went through to arrive at your final version of grandma. Really lovely.

Phyllis Harris said...

I received my copy in the mail yesterday and just sat down to read it. Thank you so much for helping to bring back my own sweet memories of my precious Grandma Nichols.

The art is really gorgeous! Congratulations and thank you for posting some of your journey of how the art came about. It was a wonderful treat to go along with enjoying the book.

e.b. goodale said...

I am crying!

FIFI LAPIN said...

wow what a lovely blog!
I just popped by to say thanks for the tip - I've added a share button!
bunny kisses
x said...

<3 thanks for reading everyone. they were special ladies.

Mai Kemble said...

Thank you so much for sharing... this post was a really sweet story to read...and I love the little video, too.
Thank you.

anne said...

Oh Julia ~ thank you for sharing your heart's memories, how precious. I cherish memories of my grandmothers ~ 3 for me ~ and now see how much you have been touched by yours ~ Pocca & Nana are certainly in you still.

Sarah Jane said...

Great post. And what a touching story. It is so sweet..and such a tender topic!

I also LOVE Dotty!!!! Can I just tell you how much my 5 year old loved it? slept with it in her bed the night we bought it. Can't say she has ever done that with a book before. She was SO charmed by the ending. Wonderful job! They love re-reading the book in search for Gert hiding in funny places.

I actually posted about Dotty on my blog today...I randomly do picture book reviews, and it's the perfect one to get ready for the school year!

WOnderful work Julia. I have just loved watching your style unfold!


Sarah Jane said...

I hit send before I could post the link!

Here's the book review for Dotty:

Extraordinary work! said...

Oh my goodness, Sarah! That is the hugest compliment and greatest thing that your little 5 year old took Dotty to bed with her! So sweet. Glad she loves it-your review was so kind too. THANK YOU! XO

GloamingDesigns said...

julia - i finally had time to sit down and read this post and it's wonderful. they are such beautiful spirits! and i'm so happy for you that you found so much growth in this book. keep going girl! you can fly! :)

Robin Dini Photography said...

this is so incredibly beautiful and it is so lovely that you shared the wonderful memories of your grandma's. I adore your drawings/paintings/artwork. The scene in the kitchen gives me chills because it is just so connected to how you describe it. You are extremely talented and I look forward to checking out more of your work. Can I pick up a copy at Barnes and Noble??