Friday, October 4, 2013

56 Things That I Learned While Traveling Through Italy

All photos © 2013 Russ Cox

This posting is about the things I saw, observed, and learned during my two weeks vacationing in Italy. There is really no order to this list. I am sure that I missed some items. If you have something to add, please add it to the comments section.

1-Italy is everything you see and hear about. Absolutely beautiful!
2-The Colosseum is MASSIVE!
3-It is fun to get lost in the small side streets and alleyways. You find the true gems in the those areas.

4-Vatican City is worth the trip.
5-Get your tickets in advance for the Vatican Museums! We are so glad we did to avoid the massive lines.
6-The Sistine Chapel will bring a tear to any artist or art lovers eyes. It is worth the trip alone.
7-The smaller galleries and museum house some of the best works of art you will ever see.

8-The Italian people do not smile a lot but are when you ask them for help, they light up and are extremely friendly.
9-Wear good walking or hiking shoes if you plan on seeing the sites by foot. The cobblestone roads and sidewalks can be brutal.
10-Small cars, scooters, and bikes are the preferred vehicles for travel in Italy. You do not see many large cars, trucks, or SUVs. 

11-Skateboards are a rarity.
12-Many Italians have tattoos but we did not see any tattoo parlors.
13-Chuck Taylors are the sneaker of choice and are very expensive.

14-Public transportation is a good way to get around. We never had any problems navigating our way from place to place.
15-Graffiti is a major problem throughout the country.

16-Many people do not talk in public due to being on their mp3 players or cell phones.
17-We had our best and worst meal in Bologna.
18-Watching a bike race from a cafe is quite enjoyable.
19-Water spigots are all over the cities and towns. The water is quite tasty.

20-You want to photograph everything you see but many times you must let the history and beauty soak in.
21-Staying in people's homes is a wonderful way to find out about the best places to eat and those hidden spots that are off the beaten path. We used Homestay and Airbnb to book our rooms.

22-The people we stayed with were all first class, fun, and treated us very well. Better than a hotel!
23-Peroni is now one of my favorite beers.
24-The wine is to die for and CHEAP!!!

25-Bologna is the food capital of Italy. The markets are packed with fresh cured meats, cheeses, fish, and produce. The smell is heavenly.
26-Traveling from destination to destination by train was perfect for us. We got to see more of the country that way.
27-The Italians use the honor system quite a bit for their public transportation and no one checks you for tickets.

28-Italian design, especially interior design, is just as amazing as you have read about or seen in books.
29-When in Florence, visit the leather school Scuola del Cuoio. It is almost impossible to the leave the gift shop without something handmade. I added a wallet and sketchbook to my stack of personal gifts.
30-The outdoor markets are worth a stroll through.
31-Venice is lovely but a headache to navigate. Although it is nice to get lost amongst the canals.

32-American music is big there. We heard very little Italian music except for the street performers.
33-September is warm but not too hot. We were told that July and August can be brutal as far as the heat.
34-I want a Smartcar! And a Vespa!
35-We saw many dogs but very few cats.
36-Packing light was a bonus. We traveled with backpacks.

37-The toilets in Italy have a squarish shape to them.
38-Just about every bathroom has a bidet. Now my wife wants one in our bathroom.
39-Every McDonalds was packed. I guess you can eat only so much fine food before craving some grease.

40-Pointing at items on a menu because you cannot speak Italian, with your pinky up, still makes you classy.
41-Sparkling or still water is served with every meal.

42-Except for Rome, the cities are very clean. And Rome was not that bad.
43-The people drive like madmen and would give New Yorkers a run for their money. I enjoyed it!
44-Italian are stunningly beautiful, especially the older women.
45-Italian men have a classy dress style that I wish I could pull off. Maybe I could if I wore clothing that did not have a band name on the front or Levi's on the tag.
46-Lots of bands play Bologna. Radiohead and the Damned just played there.

47-After walking so much during the day, Odoreaters only last for short amount of time. 
48-I was the palest person in the whole country.
49-You do not see billboards.
50-Phone and electrical lines are buried.

51-Cinque Terra is beautiful. The grouping of the 5 towns on the side of a mountain, overlooking the ocean, is striking.
52-Walking up the hill to San Luca in Bologna is quite a hike. We saw people jogging it and thought they were nuts.
53-Coming down the hill was a breeze!

54-We did not get to the Uffizi Gallery or to see David due them being sold out. Buy tickets ahead of time!
55- I am glad my wife kept a journal, because I would forget a lot of the trip.
56-Celebrating 25 years of marriage in Italy with the amazing and wonderful Lynn was the best part of the whole trip.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Been Two Months Since I Looked At You (Sorry, Barenaked Ladies)

Geez, I just realized that it has been almost two months since I last posted. Where has the summer gone? Here in Maine, we have begun our preparation for winter with the stacking of firewood, getting the snowblower ready, putting gardens to bed, watching the leaves start to fall, and the bringing out the warmer clothes from their hibernation. I am ready for the cooler air but my wife has not embraced the coming cold. Of course she wears a sweater during the summer.

In the last few months, a lot of things have happened here in Otis Land. I started doing illustration work for A&E which has been a blast. My good friend, Ilene Block, is the creative director there so that is my "in". I also in the final stages of a new book with Islandport Press. We are working together on Lynn Plourde's new Christmas book. Once it is in print production, I can reveal more. During this chaos, I managed to just finish up the fifth installment for an ongoing app with Nine22 Media. There is talk of book project after the new year. I also squeezed a quick illustration for Peter Reynolds Dot Day and was on the Celebri-Dot page. Check out the blog and see the other wonderful illustrations that were submitted. Katie Davis has listed us on her blog as well.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids and Capstone Publishing

In late August, I had two books that I illustrated come out. The first one is Whatever Says Mark (yeah I know the one on the right), written by Terry Collins and published by Capstone, is about a boy who never uses punctuation until he has help with a special teacher. It can be purchased at Amazon.

Freddy the Frogcaster, written by Janice Dean (Yes, Janice Dean of Fox News Weather fame), was with Regnery Kids. The story revolves around a little frog with the ability to forecast the weather. He can much better than the local weather celebrity. The book also has some basic weather terms in the back so it doubles as an educational book. Recently it was featured on the Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee. Amazon has it available for purchase. Below is how the book and characters came to life.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

We started out doing character studies of the main character, Freddy. Regnery Kids liked one of the designs and had a few tweaks. I took the character and sketched with different expressions to make sure his overall facial features would work with the various emotions the story needed. I played around with a missing tooth or a gap but that was nixed.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

The next step was to storyboard the entire book. The publisher provided me with some notes but let me play with the layout of the illustrations. They placed the copy in my storyboard to see how it work with the illustrations.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

Regnery Kids needed the cover art completed right away for their catalog so we jumped into designing it. The above thumbnails were sent for approval. They selected the sketch with the arrow.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

We kicked around the idea of adding a border with weather symbols but nixed it due to some production nightmares that could arise.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids

This is the final version with the type in place. I painted this in Painter, using multiple layers for easy changes and color tweaking. Since Painter does not use the CMYK color option, I had to take each final illustration into Photoshop to tweak the colors and change them from RGB to CMYK. With the greens, the color did shift but I was able to get them back to their original values and chroma with some tweaking.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids

Once the color was done and the overall color theme established, I enlarged the storyboards and did a tighter version of each page. Once approved, they were dropped into Painter where they were rendered in color. Again, the finals were brought into Photoshop to be converted to CMYK. I think Painter needs to provide the CMYK option to avoid the color shifts that happen when using RGB.

That pretty much wraps up the Freddy book. We will begin the sequel in a few months, once I am finished with my latest book.

As far as my own book, my agents and I are tweaking another round of storyboards before we begin the dummy process. I think my agents, Jodell and Loretta, are wonderful. They have pushed me very hard in getting this story to a point where they are ready for submitting it to publishers. My evenings and nights will be doing a very tight dummy and a spread, along with character studies. But first, I will take a break for a couple of weeks. Look for a post upon my return. All I can say about it for now is "ciao".

"I always try to treat the book itself as the artwork. I don't want you to stop while you're reading one of my books and say, 'Oh! What a gorgeous illustration!' I want you to stop at the end of the book and say, 'This is a good book.” Chris Raschka

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Annual Monhegan Trip

©2013 Russ Cox

As summer flies by and the heat stifles us here in Maine, I ventured down into the coolness of the basement to post an update. Maine is not known for its 90 + degree weather so I think most of us are looking forward to fall. Dare I say it? Maybe even some snow would be good right now. I know, I know, too soon but it would feel good.

Since my last post, I have been keeping busy with many different projects. Currently on my "to do" list is a children's puzzle, a book for Islandport Press, some characters for A&E, the 5th installment for an ongoing app series, plus many other goodies. Plus I have another book waiting for me when the madness ends. While working on these fun-filled projects, I am still writing my own stories, trying to get them to a point to where my agent can submit to various publishing houses. We are close with one of them so fingers crossed when it is finally sent out the door. I am excited, nervous, anxious, scared, and just about every other emotion one can think of. The feeling is almost like sending your grown children out into the world. Almost. 

Here are some current images from my sketchbook. I am still trying to find some time to work in it late in the evenings or as a morning warmup. Many of the above sketches were created while on vacation. Yeah, I squeezed a vacation into the past month. And I know, is it vacation if you draw and paint the whole time. For artist, it is the perfect time to do so.

Speaking of said vacation, I did my annual trip to Monhegan Island with a group of artist. There was a group of about 25 artist, scattered among three houses. We had our usual 7 crazies at The Field House. It is a fun, very talented group who get along so well. After a long day of painting and drawing, we gather at various houses in the evening for dinner, drinks, and games plus a critique of the days work if we feel inclined. Clyde, the seagull, was back for his annual visit as well. We kept him well fed as he entertained us in the evenings with his song and dance. It was a very relaxing, peaceful week with no pressures of doing anything. Lots of naps did take place during the heat of the day and after lunch. The island is such a diverse place to walk and hike. You get a bit of everything from forests to cliffs to a village to peaceful areas of a cove. If you never been there, it should be on your must visit list, even for just a day.

©2013 Russ Cox

The above paintings were quick plein air studies. Two were done at Lobster Cove and the third at Pebble Beach. We had three days of rain so we sketched and hired a model for a figurative session. There are a number of artist studios on the island including Alison Hill and Don Stone. Don and I share a love for the banjo so we got to hang out a bit and chat about old-time music. We did not get a chance to play some music this year, but we will make up for it next year. Don looked through my sketchbook and loved it. He had many nice things to say about it which made my week. He was a cartoonist before becoming a world renown painter. If you are not familiar with Don's work, go to

Well it is time to get back into the work groove. Lynn and I are planning a trip to Italy in September which we are looking forward to seeing. It will be our 25th anniversary. Italy is the perfect place to celebrate it. 

I will report back soon with an update, until then, enjoy this quote.

"An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way." ~ Charles Bukowski 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The "Marry" Month of May

Hello June, where did May go? I blinked and it was over. It was a crazy month filled with what seemed like non-stop action. The biggest event was our lovely daughter, Alissa, getting married. We are excited to welcome Andrew Aho to our family. It was a beautiful day for a wedding. The ceremony was held outdoors in Lancaster County Park in area along a river. I had the honor of walking her down the aisle, er, road. We shared a good cry before the walk, but that quickly turned into many laughs as we arrived to the altar. The ceremony with off without a hitch, well, almost, I forgot to give her away but quickly recovered. Freudian slip perhaps? Everyone went to the pavilion afterwards for the reception. Lots of food, fun, and laughter were enjoyed by all. The newlyweds we not planning on a honeymoon but everyone pitched in and gave them a trip to Atlanta for few days. Andrew's boss has a home there so he provided them with keys to the house and airline tickets. They will be living in the Lancaster area until October when the two of them will be heading to San Diego. Andrew is enlisting into the Navy with his sights set on becoming a Navy Seal. Alissa will go back to school for veterinary medicine. As they begin their new life together, Lynn and I are looking forward to seeing the new chapter unfold for the two of them.

Earlier in the month was the NESCBWI conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. I look forward to this conference every year as it is a chance to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and learn from the various guest speakers. This year I focused on the writing side of the book creation process. The various workshops helped me gain a better understanding on how to write, especially for children. Some of the standout sessions were "Writing for Boys", "Writing in Verse", and "Creative Meditation". I also attended some workshops on school and library visits, another area I need help in. It is something I want, and need, to do more of so I can find a comfort level with doing a presentation. Many of my friends won awards or placed in the poster contest so there was some celebrating later in the evenings. This year I volunteered again as it is an excellent way to meet people and get your face out there. The goal for next year is to present a workshop or two.

Besides the marriage of our daughter, the other exciting news is that Major Manners won a Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Best Children's Book Interior (design and illustration). The book also received a silver for the Children's Book Audio category. The publisher, Outhouse Ink, had me come to New York fir the ceremony. I had a great time hanging out with Beth and Mike Hofer. They are wonderful people and I am so happy for them getting the awards. We are already talking about the sequel so stay tuned!

While in New York, I attended BEA (Book Expo of America). It was an opportunity to see all of the publishers in one place and meet a few folks. I also got a chance to say "hi" to folks I've only chatted with through emails. I may try to attend again next year with an additional trip to the ALA.

As far as my projects, I am in the midst of reworking my picture book. Before heading out on my break, I sent the latest version to my agent. We chatted about some additional tweaks but we are getting closer. I also began work on a new story which could be a combination of an early chapter book with a graphic novel. The first draft is done so it is soon time to really write the story. In the meantime, I am working on two new picture book ideas. We would like to have a couple of the stories ready in case there is some interest from publishers. With all if this, I am working on a picture book for Islandport Press plus an app and several other illustration projects. Busy times here in the studio.

That should get us caught up for the time being. I am looking forward to what June may bring but it will tough, almost impossible, to top May.

"I don't think of myself as an illustrator. I think of myself as a cartoonist. I write the story with pictures - I don't illustrate the story with the pictures." ~ Chris Ware

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