The Stuff Of Childhood: Children’s Book Illustrations

by Arthur Rackham

by Arthur Rackham

Flying carpets, pirate adventures, talking caterpillars becoming butterflies and toys that came to life – many were the hours I dreamed through the pages of books during my childhood. The teachers in my life (several friends & relatives) tell me that they can always tell which students have had books read to them at home. My parents surely read to me, and I still own many of the books I had as a young child. I read these books, and too many more to count, to my children.

by Laura Cornell

by Laura Cornell

But what would these books be without their illustrations? Being a highly visual person, it was the images that enamored me forever. When I see a Jessie Wilcox Smith painting or a Leo Lionni collage, I’m instantly back there again – in my childhood imagination. It was the pictures that left me dreaming of the cloudy land at the top of the beanstalk or the secret life inside the doll’s house.

by Beatrix Potter

by Beatrix Potter

My husband, Scott Freeman, has illustrated two children’s books, and is currently in the process of doing a third book, authored by a woman named Beth El Kurchner. He’s also working on some new books, which he will be authoring himself, in conjunction with a new website he plans to launch June 1. So, all this has me thinking about the topic, and wanting to share with you readers some of the illustrations that have captured my affections both as a child and as a parent.

by Leo Lionni

by Leo Lionni

It’s a good topic to consider with regard to re-purposing, too. After all, stories are re-told; illustrators jump at the chance to depict a classic tale. In our home, we made a study of which re-tellings and re-workings of illustrations were our favorites, and analysed every aspect of difference. Some of Scott’s upcoming works will be adaptations and new editions of classics.

So many noteworthy illustrators have caught our attention through the years that it’s almost unfair to feature particular ones, since so many will unavoidably be left out. Please understand that for each picture I show you here, there are probably a hundred or more I’d love to include.

by Chris VanAllsburg

by Chris VanAllsburg


Art Mission Trip Sale

"Waiting" by Mollie Walker Freeman, 20" x 26" on board

“Waiting” by Mollie Walker Freeman, 20″ x 26″ on board

Art sitting in my studio is not usually seen by many people, and so, I like to get it into the hands of someone who will enjoy it. When I know that one of my paintings is hanging in the home of a friend, even if I’ve only just met this person (a new friend, then) I am satisfied that it is fulfilling its intended purpose.

This spring, I have the opportunity to help make some art that has the potential to be seen by many people and to have a positive impact on an entire community. In fact, it is possible that this piece of artwork could influence multiple communities that could use some encouragement.

"Grace and Truth" worship painting by Mollie Walker Freeman. 17" x 25" on board

“Grace and Truth” worship painting by Mollie Walker Freeman. 17″ x 25″ on board

My husband and I plan to participate in a mission trip to a small town in the South where poverty and racial tensions have cast an oppressive shadow for generations. We will be working with citizens of the town to create a mural that features images from the positive and uplifting aspects of the community, along with a series of words like “Hope,” “Courage” and “Impact.” We will be working with a church from our hometown, as well as churches from the town which is hosting us.

"Unity - A Prayer" by Mollie Walker Freeman, 30" x 30" on canvas

“Unity – A Prayer” by Mollie Walker Freeman, 30″ x 30″ on canvas

Of course, this mural alone cannot be expected to effect the change that folks are wanting. This project is part of an on-going relationship between our 2 towns, and between numerous churches and individuals. We are all learning from and encouraging each other, because in these days of inter-connectedness, we are able to be a help to each other in greater ways than ever.

"Throne Room" by Mollie Walker Freeman, 20 1/2" x 26 1/2" on board

“Throne Room” by Mollie Walker Freeman, 20 1/2″ x 26 1/2″ on board

Over the past couple of years, there have been town soft ball games, picnics, camps for kids, and all sorts activities with a focus on building relationships and making the town a place where people can feel welcome. There have also been plenty of practical projects, like getting hundreds of kids outfitted with school supplies. And I have the feeling God’s just getting warmed up.

"Hiding Place" by Mollie Walker Freeman, 22" x 28" on canvas

“Hiding Place” by Mollie Walker Freeman, 22″ x 28″ on canvas

In order to pay my travel expenses, I am selling the paintings I have created during worship services. I’d like to say that I’m offering them at a special price, but that’s not exactly the case. I always sell these paintings at a “special” price, because if a person believes that God has reached him or her through the painting, and wants to own the painting for that reason, I want this person to have the painting. So, my prices for these pieces are “suggested.” I have taken as little as $50, and as much as twice my asking price. I tell people that what they pay for the piece is between them and God.

"Gardener" by Mollie Walker Freeman, 24" x 30" on canvas, gallery wrapped (does not need frame)

“Gardener” by Mollie Walker Freeman, 24″ x 30″ on canvas, gallery wrapped (does not need frame)

What makes this opportunity a bit different is that I am extending this offer to you, my readers, as well. I will sell any of the paintings posted here for any price between $50 and $400, provided that you ask God what you should pay. He has always provided my needs, and I trust He will continue to do so. This is my way of funding a trip to help others, so if you purchase a painting, that is what you will be contributing to. Do keep in mind that I will also need you to cover shipping costs if you do not live within driving distance of northern Colorado. (I should mention that these prices are far below my studio work, because it is painted much more quickly.)

All of the paintings in this post are unframed. Some are painted on composite board,  some are on canvas. All are done with re-purposed house paint. Sizes are noted.

If you would like to participate in this fundraiser, please send me a message by commenting, and I will answer you. Thanks!

A Tale Of Two Christmas Paintings

“How long did that take you to paint?” I am often asked this question. Even a painting done in public, during a specified time period, may take more time than it would seem.  I have watched numerous painters working in public who begin the work in their studios, and merely take the work-in-progress with them to the gig and paint a little while there. Usually, the piece is not yet complete when the event is over, so the painting is then taken back to the studio to finish.

painting at x-mas tea

While I do prepare a canvas or board ahead of time, usually with many layers of textured paint, I always aim to finish each piece during the allotted time, so that the audience has the opportunity to see the finished work. Sometimes, someone wants to purchase the finished product, and this usually works out just fine for me. Occasionally, this is not the result. Sometimes, the painting needs just a bit more time. At times, I step back from the picture I have created and see that standing so close has caused me to make an unpleasant drawing error. And, there are times when it’s worse than that.

A couple of weeks ago, I painted for a local holiday gathering. I began with an image of the 3 wise men, situated in a darkened landscape. The famous star was hanging expectantly in the night sky. It was lovely, just the way it was. But the plan was for me to turn the canvas (making it verticle) and then paint the Madonna and Child. I had a good reference and an hour of painting time, so I was optimistic. An hour is longer than I usually have, and I often have just half that amount, so I wasn’t worried.

Those of you who have performed on stage in any capacity know that things happen, things you do not expect, and “the show must go on!” The ladies were late wandering into the room and seating themselves, so the hostess wanted to delay the start of the program. It would be a shame for anyone to miss anything, right? I still wasn’t worried.

With only 45 minutes left to paint,I began. I had trouble pretty much the entire time. I could not seem to get the colors I wanted. The reference was too small, and the details were hard to interpret. Still, I thought I had done okay, and the painting was sold. Half of the money from the sale went to a charitible cause, so I was happy. Until I saw the photo later that day.

"Star of Bethlehem"- painted during service at Resurrection Fellowship by Mollie Walker Freeman

I realized that the drawing was not awesome; I felt terrible about having sold a piece that should have been better executed. I thought about contacting the new owner to see if I could take the painting back and “fix it up.” Yet, this is one of the reasons I charge much less for a painting I do on stage – I spend much less time on it, and it’s not the same kind of piece on which I spend days or weeks. It left me wondering if I should give up live painting altogether…

Fortunately, the season is busy, and I didn’t have time to ponder this too much. I was “back in the saddle” the next  weekend. I had in mind to paint the night scene with the three kings again, but it just didn’t feel right. When the service began, I still didn’t know what I would do. A woman had talked with me just before the service, and had prayed that God would inspire me.

I began with a sort of glowing, round light, as from a street lamp. I was using a technique in which I use pieces of paper, adhering them to the canvas with paint, creating a nice texture. I began to afix triangular pieces, arranging them around the circle of light. It became a large star, and I liked the end result quite a bit. In fact, my husband also liked it, and it became our Christmas card for this year (sort of). We actually decided to make bookmarks to enclose with our annual holiday letters. We were really running short on time, so this was a way of simplifying. And, we thought some people would appreciate something they could use to mark a book.

x-mas letters & bookmarks

Perhaps, in the near future, no one will send paper anything any more. But as long as paper cards are sent at Christmas time, I suppose we two artists will continue to send them. I’m happy that at least one of my Christmas paintings could bring a little cheer. If you are the owner of the other one, just send me a message if the drawing starts to bother you, and we can work something out. I can’t give you a refund, though. The money is already spent.

RePurposing For Christmas Ornaments

Knowing my affection for old dolls, my hubby repaired and repurposed this itty-bitty one for me.

Knowing my affection for old dolls, my hubby repaired and repurposed this itty-bitty one for me.

Our German exchange student, Klara, was with us a few years ago for the holiday season, and she was astounded at American decorations. I don’t think the word “tacky” was in her vocabulary, yet I had the distinct impression that this was her opinion of many of the outdoor decorations in our neighborhood. She would roll her eyes at the large, inflated Santas, Grinches, snowmen, and all of the other silly blow-up versions of Christmas characters. I have to say, I pretty much share her sentiment. But she was no grinch, nor am I.

I made these ornaments back in the 1970's, from school glue and yarn. They don't look great at all unless placed in front of a light. That changes everything.

I made these ornaments back in the 1970’s, from school glue and yarn. They don’t look great at all unless placed in front of a light. That changes everything.

Old newspapers, flour, water & paint became a Nativity set made by my husband.

Old newspapers, flour, water & paint became a Nativity set made by my husband.

In Germany, we saw all sorts of tiny wooden ornaments at the homes of Klara’s grandparents and other people we visited. Some of the things they showed us were traditional figures, and quite old. There’s so much I appreciate about well-crafted holiday decorations, and I suppose I’m a bit nostalgic about some of the not-so-well-crafted items I grew up with – plastic elves with glued-on “realistic” beards, candy-cane striped styrofoam balls set in plastic holly wreaths, and sparkly gold-glitter ribbons. Something really appeals to me in these old decorations, so, clearly I am not exempt from falling for “tacky” ornaments and such.

Tiny clay dancer/bell I made for my ballerina daughter

Tiny clay dancer/bell I made for my ballerina daughter

For this post, I wanted to show you some of the Christmas ornaments that have become my favorites over the years. Scott and I have quite a large collection. In fact, we have so many ornaments that we always have to leave many of them packed because even if we get a pretty large tree, there’s just not room for them all. Most of our hand-made ornaments are re-purposed materials.

A gift for our animal-loving daughter, an old glass ball in a perch for a clay chinchilla (made by Scott Freeman)

A gift for our animal-loving daughter, an old glass ball is now a perch for a clay chinchilla (made by Scott Freeman)

We also display our old stuff differently, year to year. Some antique glass balls and lights may go into a clear glass vase on a shelf; flocked poinsettias may end up on the tree instead of in an arrangement. Some of the really fragile tree ornaments find a new home in the China cabinet. I’m no decorating queen, but I get help from my family members, and it usually turns out nicely.

Small bottles, beads, and hardware are turned into funky angels.

Small bottles, beads, and hardware are turned into funky angels.

Bits of fabric become tiny canvases for painted ornaments.

Bits of fabric become tiny canvases for painted ornaments, which I made for my family.

I enjoy taking a walk through Christmas past via all of these old treasures. I don’t think I’ll ever have need of an inflatable Santa.

Re-Purposed Images (Copies)

As a child, I often heard people criticized for “copying” or “stealing” someone else’s idea. Then I went to art school and found out that artists copy work all the time. In fact, it’s a long-standing tradition, often a way of studying the work of a master, and usually considered a compliment.

"Lamentation" After Durer by Mollie Walker Freeman

“Lamentation” After Durer by Mollie Walker Freeman

Now, famous and not-so-famous artwork can be found on everything from coffee mugs to calendars to pet sweaters. Then there are the ubiquitous “memes” all over the internet. It’s not all bad; but that’s not really what I’m talking about here.

In school, students of the Kansas City Art Institute, such as myself, were encouraged to visit the nearby Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and draw from original works that hung there. As a teenage art student, I thought this was a “stupid” exercise. To my surprise, I found myself thinking for months and years of the images I had studied. I had, indeed, learned more than I had expected.

This Durer print was inspiration for a piece I did for a Holy Week exhibit at Grace Place church.

This Durer print was inspiration for a piece I did for a Holy Week exhibit at Grace Place church.

I discovered that well-known painters I respected copied works of artists either more mature or sometimes contemporary with themselves. Then, I made another discovery: many famous artists have actually copied the work of children. My husband, Scott Freeman, wrote a cool post about this recently. Click here to read Art and Life Notes “My Five-Year-Old Could’ve Done That.”

Michelangelo's Daniel, Scott's version, attempting to identify Daniel as Jewish

Michelangelo’s Daniel, Scott’s version, attempting to identify Daniel as Jewish

So, today I’d like to share a couple of little paintings Scott and I have done, and the original images which inspired them. We have all sorts of these around our studio, so there will be more to come.

Portrait of Emile Nolde from the museum that was his home in Germany

Portrait of Emile Nolde from the museum that was his home in Germany


Also, in November, we are planning a show at the Loveland Art Museum which will feature work inspired by our recent travels in Germany. Some of this work includes paintings based on the small watercolors of Emile Nolde. I fell in love with this series of works by Nolde when we saw the originals at his home/studio in northern Germany. I’ll have to do a whole post, at least, on Nolde and his work.

Mollie & Scott in Nolde's garden, summer 2012

Mollie & Scott in Nolde’s garden, summer 2012

Paint Optional

At times, we artists feel the urge to make something cool. If there’s no paint around, or if perhaps I feel inspired by some other material, I may find myself creating a new thing from re-purposed stuff. In fact, it’s sort of a tradition around the Freeman house.

My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and my parents raised me (and my brother) to be resourceful, not wasteful. I think we’ve slipped pretty far from this kind of ethic as a culture. However, I still find plenty of folks who value what I’d call “good stewardship.” So, in that spirit, here’s a sampling of re-purposed stuff from my family.

Scott's "Fishclock" with Lee's poem

Scott’s “Fishclock” with Lee’s poem

This clock is a “found-object” sculpture made by my husband, Scott. It was made almost entirely of old pieces of junk that we found in our basement in Kansas City. The chunks of wood contain a poem, written by my son, Lee, when he was just 3 years old. (He was a precocious son-of-a-gun!)

Hours are big

Minutes are small

Seconds are hardly anything at all

Here is a purse I fashioned from fabric scraps, some of which were cut from previously worn clothing. I made quite a few of these one year. I sold them in boutiques and by commission; but it took too long to make them to make it worth my time. I would have had to charge about $150 each if I was to make a profit, which did not seem realistic in an economic downturn.

Mollie's purse

Mollie’s purse

The picture frame was one of a series I received as gifts from my children. This one was made by my son, Caleb. The photo is a bit blurry, because I am not a DSCN5122photographer, I am a painter. Still, maybe you can make out the many nature references, such as the bird’s nest in the corner. Caleb is now about to graduate college with a degree in Natural Resources, Recreation, and Tourism.

On one occasion, this was a gift from my son, Joel. It normally hangs on my dresser mirror, making me smile when I see it.

Cat mask

Cat mask, a gift from Joel

A couple of years ago, I made a few of these skirts out of old t-shirts. This one belongs to my daughter, Sierra. Hers came out so cute that I may have to make one for myself this summer.


Now we come to the mermaid. She hangs in our bathroom. She is made

Scott's Mermaid

Scott’s Mermaid

primarily of hammered pennies. This was a very tedious project for Scott, and he says he will never do it again, so don’t get any ideas.

There are many more such re-purposed items in and around our home. If you want to see more, let me know. I can do another post in the future on this topic. Soon, I hope to interview a dear friend who makes art from re-purposed stuff. Her pieces are fantastic! I can’t wait…