Ellen Cornett

Phoebe the cat appears in the story. It's fun to incorporate a pet into a drawing. And I have loved drawing the newspaper. It's been surprisingly challenging, and unlike the table and things on it, the newspaper is different in every drawing.


And now the drawings begin to get more exciting!


On a roll of sorts now. I have been working on this second drawing for a week, and I think it's done. The title will be, I think, This Is the Cake That Sat on the Plate. 


Bought a new electric pencil sharpener which has made a big difference. Not only can I keep those pencils sharp, but it's much cleaner than a handheld one, and I'm already challenged to keep the background paper clean.


After sitting with it for a few days, I decidedI didn't like my first drawing. the layout was too empty.


I decided to work larger to have room to explore the details in Harry's expressions and costumes, as well as all the characteristics of the animals and props. And I want these drawings to feel vertically cramped. That, I can't explain, but it's definitely part of the vision I have for the series.


I laid out the first couple drawings again, and then laid out the 11th, which is I think going to be the most antic of them all. Sketched those, and thought about them. With a few tweaks, I think I've solved the problem, and started the first drawing afresh. 


After two long days in the studio, we have the provisionally finished first drawing entitled, This Is the House That Jack Built. Executed in carbon pencil, the finished drawing is 16x20 on an 18x24 sheet of Strathmore heavy-weight drawing paper.



February 6, 2022


In November of last year I started talking with my friend, Harry about modeling for a series of drawings based on This Is the House That Jack Built. We planned to meet in January to take photos of him as all the human characters. At the beginning of 2022, though, we agreed that omicron made that too scary, and we decided to try a virtual collaboration.


Thus far it has been a raving success. Harry has a wonderfully wicked and transgressive sense of humor as well as a very mobile face and expressive body. I have laughed out loud at some of the photos he's sent me. And we have agreed that the delays and working online, have maybe made us both think things through more carefully, and made for a stronger collaborative effort. It has been a joy working with Harry.


I am going to execute a dozen drawings in story order, and this is the beginning of the first verse which is simply:


This Is the House That Jack Built.


It has taken a very long time (I am not a patient person) to get to having something to actually draw, but now that I've started, I am feeling the joy and excitement of a new project. And already I see that the mouse is going to have to move to the left.


I'm lumping these all together because I think you'll be tired of seeing the stages of rendering the goat, and Marylou, and so many of the repetitive characters again.


Here is Mama's gonna' buy you a meadowlark finished. The very last, and very scary part was adding the string from Marylou's wrist to the the meadowlark's neck. I used a 6B pencil and it makes a very dark, not erasable line. 

Two days worth of drawing. I started the last drawing on Friday,May 19, and this is what I'd finished by the end of Monday, May 22. I changed Freddie's expression once again. I wanted everyone but the meadowlark facing the viewer in this last drawing. 


And done! The last piece of this, again, was the string. I asked friends to weigh in on whether the string was broken or untied to release the meadowlark. The explanations for the votes were wonderful, and the untied string won.

Because I am thinking now this ought to be a book, I did a final (9th!) drawing of Marylou all by herself. Finished it today back in my studio.

I think she'll be the cover art and the first page of the lullaby.


So what have I learned. Oh my gosh--so much. I re-affirmed that, though I am a solitary person, I do love chatting with people for five or ten minutes. Several friends stopped by during the seven weeks I was at Montpelier. I got to know some of the resident artists and found people I want to keep as friends after I move out. Only once did I have to ask someone to move away from the unframed drawings lest she smear the pencil. And I only found a couple of smudges that might have been someone absolutely unable to resist the impulse to figure out if they were looking at a print or an original drawing. Easily fixed with a kneaded eraser, though I wish folks would not touch artwork. 


To my amazement, I enjoyed drawing Marylou the 9th time about as much as I did the first. And I think I was able to treat it as a new challenge each time.


If I decide to illustrate another cumulative story, I will plan to move and change things more from panel to panel. Where I did that in this series, I think the drawings became livlier and more fun.


And finally, this of course, was a series. And working in the series, to paraphrase Susan Rothenberg, is the best. You flow from one day to the next without any of the doubt and hesitation that attends normal art making. For me at any rate.


I am so grateful to Montpelier Art Center and all the folks there for their warm welcome and enthusiasm for my work. What a lovely way to bridge the time from spring into summer.

Five years ago, Jane had to give up her cat who was then known as Kitty or KFC. I had just put my last cat to sleep and though this ginger thug was not the cat I wanted, he was the cat I got. I decided he needed a proper name, and Tommy seemed Irish and appropriate, so Tommy he was. 


It took a few months for Tommy to settle. He had been a rescue when Jane got him, and I think it was difficult for him to feel safe and comfortable. But my house is quiet and in time, he got used to it. And to me. 


Tommy made up games, loved playing with Miz Ratty, Miss Mousy and his tail. He'd chase me around the house grabbing my ankles if he thought I wasn't paying him enough attention. And twice, I'm sorry to say, he took me out at the bottom of stairs, thundering past me and catching me off balance.


He also pooped on the basement floor. 


But when I'd come home from class and settle on the couch for an hour of tv before bed, Tommy was on my chest, looking into my face and purring. He followed me around the house from sunroom and morning paper, to the studio where he had his own chair, and into my office and his Labatt's blue box with orange towel by the printer. When he couldn't find me, I would hear him crying plaintively--I could almost make out the words, "where are you?"


I think we knew it was his last night, and for the first and only time, Tommy slept, not on the bed at my feet but on the pillow next to my head. I didn't sleep much, but petted him and listened to him purr.


Tommy went into the afterlife, wrapped in his orange towel attended by Miz Ratty stuffed with fresh catnip. I sure do miss him.


It was a longer than usual day, but I really wanted to finish. Rover's eyes are dark and that pushed me to darken other elements in the drawing as well--Marylou's dress, the goat's face, and some of the shadows in the cart and the bull. I think it adds to the slightly claustraphobic feel of the drawing. When I pinned it up for a review, I realized that the composition is inspired by Maurice Sendak. The figures are over-sized and crowd the edges of the page. 

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