Monday, June 25, 2012

Why don't you draw anymore?

When people learn that I started out as an illustrator they are surprised. Very few people who know me now don't know I can draw (and quite well sometimes if I do say so myself).

I started out wanting to be an illustrator of children's books. My mother and my aunt are born artists and always kept me well stocked with art supplies. It was always expected that I would be an artist in one form or another.

I studied art in college and even before I graduated I was pounding the pavement in NY to show my portfolio to publishers.

A few editors suggested I try to write my own books. I kept correcting them that I was an "artist" not a "writer". But after a while it started to sink in and my first book ever published was as an author and illustrator (Timothy and the Night Noises-you'll find it in all the best bargin bins if there are any left). I went on to publish about a dozen books and almost all were with my own stories and art. It was funny but I fell in love with the writing part and less so with the drawing itself!  The reason was that my books were always under horrendous deadlines. With a full time job I had to plow through the art to make my deadlines. It wasn't easy but I was happy people wanted my work. Illustrating is a very lonely business. Its you in a room with as few distractions as possible.

Of course I still had to work full time and the books seemed to take a back seat to my design career. When I rediscovered writing with Red Chair Press I had the chance to write for kids again. I loved it! But I had even more fun finding artists I loved to hire. They drew much better than I did and I tried to give them as much time as I could for them to do all the pictures.

But I have not given up being an artist at all. I'm a woodworker, painter, carver and anything else I want to try. Just the past weekend I finished building my own fence in the front of the house. The planning and work was just as rewarding as any illustration work I had done. And I still had the satisfaction of seeing the final product and knowing that I made it with my own hands. Creativity takes many forms.

Both my boys have the "gift" but when I push they shy away from it. I can only hope they they too will find their need to create no matter what form that takes place.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What's in a name?

I hate to admit it but I don't like my own name. Oh the "Dinardo" part is fine. Its the "Jeff" part I've never been partial to.

My Dad is first generation Italian. Both his parents were born in Italy and he was always part of a large family in the Bronx. His name is Frank and he was always surrounded by other family members named "Frank", "Frankie", "Tony", Big Tony", (you get the idea).

So when Dad married my nice German mother he wanted to change things. He named his first born "Richard" which was pretty "American sounding." But he pulled out all the stops when I came along. No offense to all the wonderful people in the world named "Jeff" but to me it has such a blah sound to it. So white, so generic. "Sergio", now that's a name I can live with. "Sergio Dinardo" has a nice ring to it!

Of course when I got married I was no better. My ex wife's name is Kristine so when our oldest son was born we named him Erik. The "K" on the end coming from the spelling of her name. Its a common name but we liked the twist.

When my second child was about to be born we had expected it to be a girl. When we found out that he would be born male we were stumped. We had ruled out so many names when we named his brother. After the doctor's visit we stopped for a lunch. As we thought about the fact that we were going to have another son we ran through new possible names. Across the street was a shop called "Alex's coffee shop" and we both looked at it. "Alex Dinardo," we both said and liked it. So it was decided right then and there. We toyed with "Alec" for a few minutes but knew he would spend his life correcting people that it wasn't "Alex". Also, neither of us were big fans of "Alexander" so we just named him "Alex". I remember when we first brought him to day care when he was 3 or 4 and one of the staff kept calling him "Alexander". I bit my tongue the first few times but then I had to quietly correct her. "His name is Alex," I said "Its not short for Alexander."

I have known some people with very interesting names. I know a Bonnie Lass, a Kelley Green and my favorite-an old high school friend named Timothy Burr. Why is that funny you ask? Well what did we always call him out when we saw him in the halls at school? "TIMBER" (Get it?)

When I see my sons I can not imagine them being named anything else. And I know my parents think the same of me. Still, if you see me, a little "Hi Sergio" is guaranteed to get me to smile.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Traveling Man

I am the first to admit it but I'm not a good traveler. Not sure why that is but I think I get the "stay at home" genes from my mom. I tend to get very comfortable where I am and have not had that wonderlust to see the world (or even other parts of the country). I'm always fretting about missing planes or forgetting to pack something I know I'll need. I tend to be a creature of habit and even when I go on vacations I tend to want to go to the same places over and over again.

All that changed when I met Maria. My girlfriend was born to travel and will take any opportunity to pack up and go. She has had me out on short excursions to the cape (in winter) and discovering new places that you can easily drive to.

Last year I had the opportunity to go to Frankfurt, Germany for a convention. The "old" Jeff would have passed that one by without question ("They don't even speak English there! Its almost like they are trying to confuse me"). But Maria rearranged her work schedule and we were off. She did the itinerary, booked the hotels, got the rental car and planned the whole trip. As we took the overnight flight to Frankfurt she couldn't sleep because she was so excited. I couldn't sleep because I kept worrying if I packed enough clothes and how was I going to order breakfast?

But I found the country amazing and the people easy to talk to (in English mostly but I did learn to say "Excuse me-do you know how to speak English?" in perfect German). For the first week most days were spent on the convention room floor but at night we discovered great local restaurants. A trick my father taught me to find a great "non touristy" restaurant was to ask the bellhops where they ate. It never goes wrong. The second week we rented a car and we were off discovering the countryside with stops along the way.

We got lost on our way to seeing one castle and stopped to ask directions. Without speaking German and with the local people not understanding a word of English we parlayed our game of charades into an automobile escort showing us the way. My mother's side is German so I already had a great taste for the food but we only had one meal that Maria and I will remember with a shiver.

After two weeks we were home. Tired and broke. We are already planning our next trip (Italy this time-when we can afford it). But in the mean time I'm back to being the old me. I do occasionally watch the travel channel and imagine what it would be like to see these exotic places-but glad I can see them from the comfort of my own couch!