6,600 thank yous

A huge thanks to all that participated in MircoVisions. It was a record-breaking year, at $6,600.00!

Thanks to all the artists and bidders, winners and losers. Sadly, it takes a runner-up to make an auction — we appreciate all of you.

There will be a few more smiling kids next May because of all your efforts.

...Now, who should we get for next year.....

Proto TAD: The Bottle Fairy

I've unearthed one of the inspirations for the Tiny Art Director project.  When she was
just a little over two years old the Proto-T.A.D. was waking us up every night for
weeks demanding “MORE BOTTLE!” At 3:00am we complied to avoid hours of screaming.

Finally we told her that the bottle fairy was coming to take her bottles away and give them to new babies who need them.

“I’m going to be very mad at her when she comes,” she told us.

The Bottle Fairy did come and left this calling card, a toy parasauralophus and a brand new sippy cup.  She loved the dinosaur and didn’t even mind the sippy cup which pretty much solved all of our sleep problems.  She hated the drawing.

And she didn’t even know that I drew it!

Sneaking Away

The Brief: A Brachiosaurus sneaking away from a T-Rex

The Critique: Brachiosauruses don't have spikes! I like how you made his teeth yellow - because do dinosaurs brush their teeth? I don't think so! I think you should do some of her babies sneaking away too.

Job Status: Approved
Additional Comments: I want to do a version!

Here's my version (that's the tip of the guy sneaking off's tail)

MicroVisions 5 auction now live!

MicroVisions 5 auction is now live on eBay.
Opening bids start at $50.00.
Auction ends Wednesday, May 26th.

Each year, Dan Dos Santos and I ask about a dozen artists to create a 5x7 painting of their choosing. These miniatures are exhibited at the Society of Illustrators and placed on auction with all proceeds going to the Society’ student scholarship fund.

This year’s contributors pulled out all the the stops and created an amazing exhibit. A huge thank you to the artists that have given so generously of the time and talent: Scott Altmann, Scott Bakal, Rick Berry, Bill Carman, Jon Foster, Donato Giancola, Michael Kaluta, Tim O’Brien, Omar Rayyan, Allen Williams, and Boris Vallejo.

The Society Scholarships are among the illustrations industry’s toughest awards. Less than two hundred students are chosen to be in the exhibit from nearly 6,000 entries—about half of them earn cash awards. Not only do these awards help subsidize students financially, they also go a long way to boost the confidence of young artists (and their nervous parents) by proving their voices stand out amongst thousands of others. It’s never long before you start seeing the winners on their way to becoming the field’s biggest names—John Jude Palencar, James Jean, Tomer Hanuka, Dan Dos Santos and hundreds of others since the Scholarship’s inception in 1981.

For those of you in New York, the exhibit is on display at the Society of Illustrators through May 22nd.

Drawing Conclusions

One memory from the Mathare Valley Slums I'll never forget is the day I took about 60 kids and did a drawing exercise with them.

I had packed a bunch of small blank sketch pads and a box of pens in my suitcase. We headed to a small grass field in the slums so we'd have room for everyone.

David Theuri drawing a taxi van.

To help them get into it I started to draw a few pictures as they swarmed around me. (A friendly dogpile if you will) They laughed as I drew out funny faces and characters.

Ndanu Musill drawing of a church.

Once I was done drawing I began handing the sketch pads to kids along with a pen and they'd take it and go off and sit down and draw a picture. It was fun to watch them draw and even better when they got excited to show me what they had created.

If there is a universal creative attribute it's drawing. All kids love to do it. It's only as they get old and fear sets in that they give it up. It's the fear of what others may think of their work that causes many to stop drawing as they get older. No one was timid in this group, they had a lot of fun and no fear.

A little girl draws a person.

Watching some of them draw reminded me how much my own daughters love to draw, and how much I love to look at their artwork. It struck me that none of these kids have a refrigerator to hang a drawing on, or paper or a pen for that matter.

Cliff's airplane drawing and Elizabeth Njeri's girl drawing.

These kids may live in a slum but they have the same childlike fascinations that any other kid would have. That much was evident in the drawings I collected.

Cliff has probably never flown in a plane, but he could sure draw one pretty well. He's obviously seen them fly high above in the sky and remembered what they looked like.

Denis and his sports car drawing.

It doesn't matter where in the world you live, or what community or culture you're part of, there is always someone with an artistic bent. A raw talent if you will. And I had hoped to discover one such kid within the Mathare Valley Slums and along came Denis.

He was eager to get a pad and pen and quickly started drawing. When he brought the drawing back I looked at his sports car drawing and just smiled saying "Wow!" bumped fists with him and said "Good job Denis! This is awesome!"

Drawing by Denis. Sports car and a dragon.

Denis didn't stop with a sports car he also drew a dragon, a caricature of Kelsey Timmerman, a cartoon man, and myself.

I wanted to encourage him to keep drawing so I gave Denis a few pads of paper and a couple pens and told him to keep drawing cool pictures. I hope he does.

Young boy observing other kids.

While shooting in another slum location for the documentary I spotted this young boy watching something through the hole in the fence. He sat there for a good ten minutes before he noticed me watching and moved along.

Kids in a slum school.

I walked over and looked through the same hole and spotted what had captivated his attention. It was a slum school and he was watching the kids in the school yard playing.

Not all kids in the slums can afford these private slum schools, many don't have any schooling. Not because they wouldn't want to learn, but rather their parents either can't afford it or don't enroll them or teach them any schooling.

This of course compounds the problem they'll face in the future.

Slum kids playing in an abandoned van.

After I finished the drawing exercise with the kids, they made their way over to a gutted out old van sitting in the field and it instantly became a playground. Fun is fun no matter if you're in the slums or not.

Wire Bike sculpture created by a slum artist. (Click picture for larger image)

While driving out of downtown Nairobi one afternoon there was a slum artist selling wire sculptures he created on the street. I bought this cool motorcycle for five dollars, and others in our crew bought the rest of his work. I'm amazed at the level of detail and ingenuity that obviously went into creating this art. Amazing!

I enjoyed my time in Kenya, but you don't have to go to Africa in order to help others out. Look for things you can do locally to improve the lives of others and share your time by investing in their well being. It's fun and you'll never be the same again.

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts over the last several days. The experience in the Nairobi slums has forever changed me and when the final version of the documentary is released I'll be posting about the premiere locations.

I'm sure the documentary will be a powerful film and it was a privilege to be part of it's production.

Safari Day

Attack of the Killer Monkey!

While in Africa we did manage to take one day off from working in the slums and drove about two hours northwest of Nairobi to the Lake Nakuru National Park for a Safari.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the park we spotted a handful of monkeys hanging around. I've never seen a monkey face to face, but never in person.

So like an idiot I decided to get a close up video of one monkey. At the time I thought it would be a good idea to make chirping noises at the little dude while I was filming.

Well, I must have said something offensive in Monkey talk because he turned and started chasing me and I ran like a little girl as shown in the video above.

Our safari vehicle.

Like a clown car we packed 12 people into this small van. The road we traveled wasn't smooth either. If you didn't watch yourself one good pothole could easily bruise a kidney.

Baboons among us.

There were several baboons walking around the parking area at the safari also. Knowing these creatures could easily tear off a scrotal sack, or suck out one of my eyeballs if provoked, I made sure to keep Justin Ahrens between me and the roving beasts.

Stereotypical Africa Tree.

I captured a lot of texture images in Africa and will be releasing that to the design world as a new set of design resources later this summer.

Rule29 and Glitschka Studios will be teaming up on a cool design project inspired by our time in the Nairobi slums, but more about that later.

Waterfall in safari.

As we drove the safari we came upon this cool waterfall that spilled out and flooded over the road we had to drive through.

Staring at this waterfall I thought it looked like chocolate milk and I envisioned large Oreo cookies bobbing in the water below it. (These are the type of thoughts I usually never tell anyone about, and for good reason.)

Strange plant and bug.

As I was heading back to the vehicle I spotted this plant with a colorful bug on it. I set my camera to macro and got in really close to capture a good picture. (1 inch or so) That's when our guide leaned over and said pointing to what I was shooting "That is poisonous."

I wasn't sure if he meant the plant or the bug, but that was all I needed to hear and skidaddled.

Zebra butt.

I would have liked to get a better picture of a Zebra but this was the best I could do. Shooting pictures with several pro photographers means they get the best angles, and for good reason I suppose.

During the safari I did manage to see a Monkey, Wild Boar, Flamingo, Ostrich, Giraffe, Rhino, Water Buffalo, Impala, Gazelle, Millions of Butterflies, and even a Lion sleeping in a tree.

So why am I not posting pictures of these animals? Well the fore mentioned shutter bugs all got great pictures of most of these because they had sniper quality lens, and my point in shoot is good for textures and up close like the lethal plant I shot, but not so hot on the zoom.

Seriously though, how many times have you seen a good photo of a Zebra butt? Bet you didn't realize all the stripes pointed to the pooper did you? See, it's educational.

Traffic in Nakuru.

Whether you're in Nairobi or in this case Nakuru, traffic is absolutely chaotic.

Lets put it this way, if you owned a company that painted road lines you'd go out of business fast. No one cares about lanes, right of way, or paint jobs for that matter.

Come to think of it I don't think I ever saw a speed limit sign the whole time there?

My travel hat.

I've worn this hat all around the world now. Took it with me when I went to Israel and Jordon and now it's been to Kenya as well.

When we were leaving and heading back to Nairobi we stopped to get something to drink. I was in the passenger seat and a street vendor was trying to sell me some home burned CD's of African pop music. (I'm a sucker for African pop and bought two) That's when a younger street urchin walked up to our vehicle reached in through the window and nabbed my hat sitting on the dash board and took off running.

I was too tired to respond. I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and thought "I guess he needs it more than I do." But our driver within seconds, put the car in park, set the emergency brake and exited the vehicle in a blur.

All of a sudden I felt like I was watching an African episode of Cops. He caught the kid, hog tied him, retrieved my hat and the whole van applauded. (OK, he didn't hog tie him, that was writers embellishment)

It was an entertaining way to end the day.

Slum Kids

A happy little girl.

The kids in the Mathare Valley Slums probably gave me more than I was able to give to them.

Wherever we'd go in the slums groups of kids would inevitably gather around us watching, laughing, talking to us and asking me to take their picture. The kids loved to see themselves in these pictures and a local worker for Life in Abundance told me it's because many of them rarely get to see themselves in a mirror on a daily basis.

Big sister and little brother.

A common sight in the slums is kids taking care of kids. Many parents are single parent families and most of the parents time is either outside the slums working in the city or just trying to take care of the essentials and the kids are the ones left to fend for themselves.

A little girl.

I enjoyed interacting with the kids in the slums. They made me laugh and I was able to make them laugh. But it was hard not thinking of my own daughters when I'd meet a little girl like this. It would just make me well up with tears if I dwelled on it.

A boy and his wire toy.

Despite their living conditions the slum kids are very resourceful and creative. This boy created a toy car out of wire. This became a common sight in the slums among the kids. Hand built toys, many of them out of mere junk.

A wireframe ford bronco?

I was so impressed with this wire toy built by one of the young boys. The details and proportion was incredible, it even had a steering mechanism you controlled with a steering wheel at the end of the long extended wire. The recycled bottle caps as the tires was brilliant.

Childhood friends.

When we first arrived at the slums the kids would come up to me point and say "Muzungu." This is the swahili name for "White Person."

After a few days of this, I pointed to my t-shirt design which had white ink in the design and put my skin up to it and said "White?" shook my head and said "No. Pink!" then pointed to a little girls shirt with pink on it. They thought that was pretty funny.

Marble eyed.

This boy hung around one of our shot locations for a few days. He didn't speak a whole lot and I did most of the talking. Unfortunately I lost the paper I wrote his name on but the day we left he came up to me and showed me two marbles he had brought with him and wanted me to take his picture.

He then grabbed my hand and put one of the marbles in it and closed it saying "For you." I thought that was precious and knowing these kids have next to nothing it meant a lot to me. It now sits on the shelf in my office.

A young boy with his juice box toy.

We've all heard the idiom "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Well that saying really came to life in the slums. Empty cooking oil containers became water pitchers, discarded water bottles became shoes, and in the photo above a small boy found a used juice box in the garbage and turned into a toy for himself.

When I saw the toy he had created I called it "The Mango Mobile!"

The Mango Mobile in Action.

The moment I saw this kid having fun playing with junk it crushed me. I also knew the next time my own kids complained about not having something I was going to tell them the story of "The Mango Mobile."

This whole scene made me think of a quote by Chuck Swindoll.

"Life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.”

Scooby-Doo in the slums.

One day we were shooting by a railroad track and one of the kids in the crowd had a Scooby-Doo shirt on. I pointed at his shirt and said "Scooby Dooby Doo!" in my best Scooby-Doo voice. He along with the group of kids started laughing.

I noticed later that day that someone had painted Scooby-Doo on the side of a slum house. I'm not sure how much if any of the actual TV program anyone in the slums had seen since a TV is a very rare commodity for most living in the slums.

A sick young girl.

Many of the kids I'd talk too were obviously sick. Much of this is facilitated by the poor living conditions and diet. Most of the kids we found out only have one meal a day and that is pretty meager in and of itself.

This little girl came up to me and smiled and wanted to bump fists which I had been doing with all the kids. And when I looked into her eyes I lost it. We talked to the local group and a pastor to see if we could get her into a clinic and find out what the problem was.

In the slums resources are tight and this was one of the reasons why we were filming the documentary to help Life in Abundance reach out to these local communities and help people like this little girl through a wholistic approach.

A slum coffin builder.

Unfortunately the reality of the slums is that infant mortality is very high. One of the days were shooting in Kibera we spotted this local man building a child coffin.

It was a grim reminder of what kids living in the slums face.

Slum Life

I'm struggling with knowing how to write about this experience? I want to share it with everyone, but I feel wholly inadequate to do so. I'm not even sure where to begin?

The last week and a half I spent in the Mathare Valley Slums in Nairobi, Kenya was an experience that has touched me deeply. And writing about it now brings me to tears as I think about the various interactions I had with the people there.

So I hope what I'm about to share will give you a new perspective on life in the slums.

Mathare Valley Slums Nairobi, Kenya.

The population of Nairobi, Kenya is around 3 million. And the slums which the city encircles both in the Mathare Valley and Kiberia makes up 80% of that population. So the majority of the Nairobi work force comes from the slums.

I was part of a team of around 12 people filming a documentary about the work that Life in Abundance is doing in the slums in Nairobi. My roll was mostly related to grip and gaffer duties but I was able to work with the kids from the slums too which I'll share more about later this week.

Our days shooting were spent in the heart of the slums interacting with the people and traversing their daily environment.

Descending into a labyrinth of slum corridors.

The slums are a labyrinth of interconnected corridors between the haphazard constructed homes that align them.

We spent most of our time in the Mathare Valley Slums but someone has managed to map the Kiberia Slums which we shot in as well.

A river runs through the Mathare Valley slums.

A river slits the Mathare slums into two sides and crossing the water can be somewhat dangerous at times depending on the weather, bridge construction and of course motor skills. I almost fell in once while crossing.

Most of the Mathare slums are on a grade, so when it rains water can literally cascade down the valley through the poorly built slum homes and drain into the river. This of course makes life a lot harder and dangerous for it's residents.

A drive through the Mathare slums.

There are only a handful of paved roads in the slums and most areas are just hardened dirt. When it rains many areas become a muddy mess.

Daily life in the slums consists mostly around the essentials. Food, Clothing, and Shelter. The main street entering the slums is a vibrant marketplace of small shops such as Salons, Butchers, Repair Shops, Groceries, Food Markets, Cell Phone Carriers, and I even noticed a slum movie theatre playing boot legged Bollywood videos.

The slums have no formal grid of electricity, although some have managed to tap it both legally and illegally. I was told that the local power company in collaboration with the police do raids into the slums every six months arresting people for illegally tapping the power lines in the area.

The irony is the power company charges too much for most slum people to afford, so because they need electricity they steal it by hiring off hour power company employees to hook them up, but than they risk being arrested and fined more than what they can make in a year.

Politicians in Nairobi give lip service to the slums in order to get their votes, (somethings never change) but in many cases these same politicians make money from the slum lords that demand monthly rent from slum dwellers. To say the least this whole situation is a very vicious cycle.

A slum home.

Construction in the slums follows no building code. The homes are constructed from whatever is available and what ever will work. Most are made from scrap wood and corrugated tin roofing material that is patched together like a junk yard quilt.

The home pictured above is about 10 x 10 feet square, dirt floor, no running water, no electricity and is lived in by a lady named Irene, her daughter, and her mother.

We interviewed Irene for the documentary and as a way to say thanks we visited her home a few days later and ten of us crammed into the small space and brought her a bag of groceries. The thankfulness and gratitude this women showed us that day rocked my world. Her hospitality and faith was nothing short of amazing.

It struck me how easy it is from a western point of view to think we got it all together. Or think "They should be more like us." At best this type of mindset is arrogant.

This lady despite her nasty geographic reality and the poverty she finds herself in was far more balanced than a lot of people I've met here in the states.

That said, I can't say I've fully comprehended this paradox yet, but it's the one thing from this whole experience that has shifted my own perspective completely.

My new friend Kelsey Timmerman was part of our documentary team and the group that visited the home of Irene and he wrote a great post about his experience in the Mathare slums.

A slum community.

Despite the obvious poverty and living conditions the slums have a very close knit community. This is most notable in the market places. But within the various areas of the slum are distinct individual communities. I can't say I fully understand why a community would openly toss garbage and waste out into their streets, but this is a common sight in the slums.

Areas not only look gross, the smells one encounters in the slums often trump the visuals you take in and make the experience a full sensory overload at times.

One area we walked through I had to hold my breathe for about a minute, not wanting to breath in the smell I had encountered. I was forced however to abandoned my breathing prohibition only because I feared passing out and rolling into an open sewage canal. (My buddy Justin Arhens who invited me on this journey did manage to dip his leg in one which of course was funny.)

Open sewage canal and children.

Everywhere you walk in the slums you'll step on trash of one sort or another. You can't avoid it. The slums themselves in many places are actually built on top of old dumps. In places you can see the strata layers of refuse that makes up much of the slums foundation.

One day we shot near the river and this open canal running through a local community had all matter of sewage run off and waste trickling through it. The children of the slums are literally walking through this, touching it, sitting in it etc. on a daily basis. To say it is merely unsanitary is just too tame of a term to use in describing it.

A young boy who asked me to take his picture.

The slums are filled with children so it was impossible to navigate the slums without the constant interaction from kids. Wherever we would go they would gather around to watch and say to us "How are you?" and if we asked them in return "How are you?" they'd reply "Fine." In all honesty most weren't fine, they were almost always dirty, sick, and hungry.

It was very difficult at times interacting with these children only because I couldn't help but see my own kids in them and it broke my heart knowing how they were having to live as compared to my kids safely back home. This would be the hardest part of this whole experience for me.

But the slum kids also proved to be the most rewarding as well.

Julie Bell and The Path of Daggers

This month’s Wheel of Time ebook release features the fabulous Julie Bell!

“In the end, Julie created strong and individual characters, each one looking as competent in their own right as the next, clearly working together for a greater power.”

Check out the Tor.com article to read the whole story, including a video interview with Julie.

Tiny Film Critic: Barbie Mariposa

Presenting a new feature - the Tiny Film Critic
The Film:  Barbie Mariposa and her Butterfly Fairy Friends

The Review: Babiest movie ever? Babier than Dora? Barbie Mariposa.

It crushed the brain out of my head!

It was about these stupid little fairies who think they're strong enough to go into the cave and all the others have to stay back and they're trying to save the queen from the stupid little fairy named Hannah who tries to give her a poison in her mouth.

And then it comes like this: So. Mariposa found the thing that would make the Queen better but stupid little Hannah pulled the petals off the flower and then she only got a little of the smell and even it made her better!

Film Status: Rejected

Additional Comments: Can we rent Barbie Fairytopia now?