On-the-spot Portraits

On-the-spot portraits I made of kids during school visits for October's Taleblazers Literary Fest. Thanks to the schools who hosted me and the students who sat for me! And to the Young Alberta Book Society, who organized the tour. If you want to bring real live authors and artists to your Alberta classroom or library, check them out: www.yabs.ab.ca.

Story Avenue

Four hundred kids.
Five Edmonton schools.
Nine writers and illustrators.
Welcome to Story Avenue!
In my workshops, we made the shortest possible storyboards. Since some of my fave writers and illustrators were next door, I kinda wanted to sneak away to see what they were doing in THEIR classrooms!
Thanks to the Young Alberta Book Society and all the amazing volunteers, teachers and sponsors who make this annual Story Avenue event happen. And to the great group of students from Mee-Yah-Noh, Norwood, Oliver, John A. McDougall and Delton Schools: Keep on writing, drawing and thinking!


Back to School!

Seven schools in six towns! Courtesy of the Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers Author Tour, I talked to hundreds of kids about writing and illustrating books in October. Here are some on-the-spot-portraits I made of some of my audience. A big thank you to teachers and librarians of Swan Hills, Lendrum, Holy Family, Father Scollen, Magrath, Foremost and Turner Valley for hosting me!


During my California visit, I met up with Weeds Find a Way writer Cindy Jenson-Elliott at Cardiff School, where she co-teaches an elementary class. Cindy and the students built a garden at the school: sometimes they spot grey whales swimming in ocean a stone’s throw from the playground.

I got to talk to Cindy’s students about writing and illustrating books. And I got to do some drawing! Thanks to Cindy, Ms. Boyesen and Ms. Douillard for sharing your class at the school-by-the-sea.


Beam me up, Scotty!

My Skype visit to a children's literature class 1700km away at the University of Northern Colorado. Thanks, Dr. Erekson and students! Shhh...don't tell anybody that I was wearing my fluffy bunny slippers!

An Author, a Cop and a Librarian Meet in a Grade Three Class

I visited more than 400 students for It's a Crime Not to Read, a Calgary Public Library literacy program that brings police officers, authors and library books into schools. My drawing of Constable Simon (left, center) looks exactly like a composite sketch of a suspect, don't you think? The kids, on the other hand, look totally innocent.

Thanks to Kathy Wise and Eda Czarnacki of the Calgary Public Library for setting this up!


Grade 3 students used their sketchbooks to draw landscapes and brainstorm patterns. They practised using watercolor by making a puddle of clear water on the paper, loading up brushes with paint, and dropping the pigment into the water.  They drew oil pastel patterns using a limited color scheme. Each child contributed one square of a collaborative waterfall scene.


Gone Fishin'

Here's what we did in Grade 1/2 class during my Artist Residency at Calder school. As with all the students, we practiced drawing in drafts in sketchbooks and on larger sketches, fixing any mistakes in our second draft. Then we went fishin', using Sharpie markers, tissue paper collage, and oil pastel.

Paul Nicklen's Polar Obsession

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen spends his days taking photos in remote and extreme ice environments. Nicklen, who has spent more that forty years living in the Arctic, gave a talk in Calgary recently. The loss of multiyear sea ice due to global warming, Nicklen says, could spell extinction for many species in the north and south poles. His obsession is to document polar creatures - including polar bears - who depend on ice to live in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Here are some things that I scribbled in my sketchbook about Nicklen's talk. (The room was darkened for the slideshow, hence the illegible writing and drawing.)

Nicklen talks about how multiyear sea ice - ice that stays intact over summer - is like the soil in an inverted garden. "If we lose this ice, we stand to lose entire ecosystems throughout the Arctic and Antarctica," he says. Three hundred species of microorganism live in the salt channels in this sea ice, supporting whole chains of flora and fauna from zooplankton to arctic herring to ringed seals to polar bears, among many more. Scientists used to say that the Arctic sea ice would melt in 100 years. But with global warming heating the earth's waters ever faster, current studies predict that polar ice will disappear in 4-10 years.

Polar bears rely on multiyear sea ice to stay healthy, Nicklen says. The bears need to get out on the ice so they can feed on their main prey - ringed seals. But winter ice freeze-up is happening later and later, retreating from October to November in the last ten years. Landlocked bears without access to multiyear sea ice will starve, as will stranded polar bears drifting on isolated bergs in open ocean that used to be thick with ice. Fat seal-fed bears can swim for a thousand kilometers; but starving bears get hypothermia and drown. And polar bear cubs do not have the energy reserves to swim such long distances: the mortality rate for polar bear cubs is over 50%.

"As long as these bears have any bit of ice, they will survive, but it's ice that's disappearing," Nicklen says. Twenty years ago when he first started working in the north, Nicklen hardly ever found dead polar bears. In the last four or five years, bear corpses are popping up all the time, floating in the Beaufort Sea; drifting in the open ocean where the ice has melted out; and on land, showing the stress on the species of the disappearing ice.

Nicklen spoke about his adventures shooting photos of other ice-dependant animals in harsh environments - leopard seals, narwhals, bowhead whales, belugas, elephant seals, penguins and more. Take a look at the gorgeous and haunting photos in his latest book, Polar Obsession. www.paulnicklen.com


What We Drew in School

Last month, I talked about books and drew pictures at schools around Alberta. The students brainstormed to invent a slew of never-before-seen creatures. I sketched their ideas. Then relay teams of kids took turns coloring the drawings - all in about fifteen minutes.

Here are some samples of what we did.

First Frost

OK, it's way past first frost, but I've been so busy touring Alberta schools that I didn't have time to re-post a guest column that I made for the Sci-Why blog. At sci-why.blogspot.ca, a posse of kids' book writers - including Joan Galat and Claire Eamer - discuss science, words, and the eternal question - why? So if you want to find out about zombie ants, prehistoric scimitar cats, star-watching and more, take a look.

Here's my Sci-Why post about first frost:

Hi, I'm artist and author Carolyn Fisher. I write and illustrate picture books. Today, I'm pinch-hitting on the Sci-Why blog for Joan Marie Galat, who is gallivanting around Australia to look at stars in the southern hemisphere.

In my picture book The Snow Show, I wrote and illustrated a story about how snow is made.

When you're making a book, you do oodles of research. You brainstorm, you write, and then - if you're an illustrator like me - you draw zillions of sketches to plan out the pages. But because my editor gave me a 48 page limit on The Snow Show, there were lots of things that I left out.

Like how frost is made, for example. To today, in honor of dropping temperatures, I wanted to write about frost.

First, we have to talk about how snow grows. Here are some drawings that got rejected from The Snow Show.

Did you catch that? If the air temperature is below zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), water vapor molecules can change to ice without turning to liquid first. That's called DEPOSITION. Snow crystals form when floating water vapor molecules change by deposition directly into ice crystals.

There, I just summarized The Snow Show in three sentences. Can you believe it took me 48 pages to say that?

Frost crystals grow the same way as snow: water vapor molecules in the air freeze by deposition onto plants, glass, or snow surfaces. (Sometimes frost forms beneath snow surfaces: that's called depth hoar and it can cause avalanches if conditions are right. But that's a whole other blog post!)

For a snow study guide, download my free snow activity kit pdf here.