Maria van Lieshout's Blog

October 2, 2014

Sometimes, you are asked to do a book presentation at a school. You do your bit, and you remind yourself you need to do this waaay more often, because the kids were adorable and the school was great, and the money was…uh, let’s just leave this with the adorable kids.

And then there are the times when you are asked to do a presentation at a school and the experience grabs you by the hair, whips you around and leaves you dizzy, out of breath and completely floored. Well, this actually never happened to me. Until yesterday. I was invited, along with a group of Bay Area kids book people, to talk about my books to the kids of the Tenderloin School, smack in the middle of the Tenderloin neighborhood.

Now, suffice it to say the the neighborhood isn’t named after the way its residents eat. Most live in one of the countless single-room apartments. Many of them kids. These kids have very little. But they have Midge Wilson. This woman is a force of nature. She moved to the Tenderloin 30 years ago, and decided to make life better for the kids and families there. She has provided thousands of women and kids with free clothing and food. She has built five playgrounds and a rec center in the Tenderloin, and she has built this school.

tenderloin_lgext346_tenderloin246_tenderloin1Most beautiful school I’ve set foot in in San Francisco. Sports courts and garden on the roof, play structures in the yard, and even a dental clinic where all students get free dental care. She made all that happen. She is the warrior type, who will call the best architect in the city and ask him to devote six years of his life to this project. For free. And he will. She will call city officials, foundations, prominent families, celebrities, and rally them for “her” neighborhood. Hell, she will even call Kristi Yamaguchi and ask her to mentor one of her kids who is a promising skater. She’s that woman.

And yes, once a year she asks local children’s book creators to come in and talk to her students. So we did.

TenderloinI can’t wait to go back next year and tell those kids what I’ve been up to!

If she’ll have me.


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Published on October 02, 2014 15:35 • 183 views

August 1, 2014

I’m one of those book design junkies who will buy a beautifully designed (or illustrated) book even if the story inside is so-so. I will also NOT buy a great story if the book that holds it is badly designed. I’ve written about my love for book design before.

When I was in Holland a while back to research a historical novel I’m working on, I found myself at the Allard Pierson Museum, which is housed inside the former Dutch National Bank. As I wandered into one of the exhibit spaces from the grand marble corridor, I bumped into a guided tour of an exhibition about book making and printing, and decided to stick around for the duration of the tour. They had a “story in postcards” on display which took my breath away…

Who was this designer? Was this book for sale?

The guide told me the designer was Irma Boom. And of course the book is for sale. It’s about the same price as my monthly mortgage payment. Details, right? And while I’m saving up, I can peruse this site, which is a rather comprehensive look at the book. And it’s free! Free is good.

But the book has since inspired me to use loud, screeeechy neon yellow for my next book, which will be published by Chronicle Books next summer. It also inspired me to plunk down cash for this little number by Irma Boom, called The Architecture of the Book, which packs a whopping 800 pages and 515 images in a book the size of a matchbox (well, maybe two matchboxes stacked on top of each other).

(Now, where did I leave my glasses?)

Once the tour was over, I told the tour-guide about the book I’m working on and he offered to show me the “Griffierskamer” of the former National Bank, which has been renovated to its original state. The greatest bank heist in European history was pulled off during the second world war in that very room. Can’t you just see two bankers staring each other down from their purple chairs? Playing Russian roulette? Well, that didn’t really happen. Or perhaps it did. Who’s to know, right?

I do know that the heist was plotted by an unlikely band of bankers and print-makers. It is only fitting that this stately building, where gold was once stored in large safes underground after it arrived on barges floating on the canal, is now a museum. A museum where a girl with the crazy plan to write a book could learn about printmaking. And about neon yellow.

(Listen Debbie Millman from Design Matters as she talks to Irma Boom).

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Published on August 01, 2014 19:07 • 30 views

June 7, 2013

Is San Francisco beautiful? Yes. Is the view from the De Young Museum’s Observation Tower one of the most beautiful views in the city? YES YES YES!

So guess who was up in the sky last Friday doing her Backseat A-B-See book presentation for a bunch of kids?

This easily qualifies as the most beautiful book talk location in the history of book making. At least until pal Jim Averbeck launches his brilliant novel Hitch at the Fairmount Hotel (this serves as a not-so-subtle hint).

So Friday was spent with my head in the clouds, where Saturday was ruled by both Mickey Mouse and Maurice Sendak. I was invited to be on a panel with Jim Averbeck, Lisa Brown, Ashley Wolff and Christy Hale, moderated by Julie Downing at the Disney Family Museum.

We talked about how he influenced our work. It was a blast, and I learned so much about both the man and about my brilliant pals. And I laughed my face off when Lisa talked about the cartoon she created based on an old Jewish song called Mayshaleh and Chayaleh, which I cannot stop saying. Mayshaleh and Chayaleh…Mayshaleh and Chayaleh…Mayshaleh and Chayaleh…

Oh, and the Disney Museum is cool! Go check it out!

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Published on June 07, 2013 14:16 • 78 views

May 11, 2013

Grumpygurl was my BFF right after Max was born. She was cheaper than a therapist and probably just as helpful in helping me out my hormonal rages, insecurities and crappy feelings related to being responsible for a helpless human being 24/7.

The helpless human being has come a long way. He is now a tall 3.5 year old boy who walks, talks and does a mean Johnny Cash impression. He was a lot less helpless than I suspected. He learned how to smile right when I was getting ready to sell him off to the highest bidder and has recently decided to tell me he loves me right when we walk past the local bakery with the colorful mini cupcakes.

My hormonal rages have subsided, but contrary to what Hallmark would like us to believe, motherhood isn’t all rainbows and pink roses. So in honor of Mother’s Day, I’m bringing my gurl Grumpy back! Enjoy.

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Published on May 11, 2013 17:02 • 65 views

May 5, 2013

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to update my blog more. Since I’m already wearing flip-flops and my last post was uh…almost a year ago, I better get on it. My excuses? I could say that I needed to clean out my garage (still a mess), that our pediatrician suggested it was time to potty-train Max now that he is tall enough to ride the kiddie roller coaster all by himself (still happily in diapers) or that I finally lugged all our baby gear to other people’s homes (done), but those are just lame. As long as there is time to watch Housewives of Beverly Hills, there is time to update the blog every now and again. And I watched every episode of that show. It’s like watching Discovery Channel animals mating and preying on each other in their native habitat, but a lot more vicious. And with nicer clothes. And richer husbands.

You know when you meet an old friend after not seeing her for a while, and you end up staring at her because there is SO much to talk about, you just don’t know where to start? That’s how I feel about this post. Besides not cleaning my garage and not potty-training my son, I made two picture books. Here is the cover for one, Catching Kisses, written by Amy Gibson. Available January 2014.

Oh, and Backseat A-B-See won an award! Really! Philadelphia’s Please touch Museum flew me out, put up me in a fancy hotel, and gave me tiny finger foods to eat. It was the first time someone other than hubster sprung for my travel since I left my job at Coke. Man, it fit me like a well-worn boot.

(Will someone please tell the dufus in yellow to show the FRONT of her book?)

I got to meet Ame Dyckman, who has blue hair and made me laugh all weekend. Also met G. Brian Karas, who I prefer to call G and who can draw really fast and really good in front of a bunch of kids, and über-talented Dan Yaccarino, who I discovered collects robots and knows everything about Pez dispensers. This made me like him even more. Also ran into pal Zach Ohora, who was a judge on the awards committee, but I never got to buy him the beer I owe him. I even got to see Mo Willems play the trumpet. Somewhat…

We got rowdy in front of a roomful of first graders.

And we snuck out after the tiny finger foods to have us an honest Philly Cheese Steak showdown: Geno’s vs. Pat’s. Both with onions and Cheese Whiz.

Dan voted for Geno’s. My vote went to Pat’s. But that was only because Geno’s wouldn’t let me order in Dutch…

I had a fantastic time. Thank you, Please Touch Museum, for giving my book the Please Touch Award and for showing us such a great time! We will be back, because I cannot wait to show my little dude the awesomest kids museum in America. Let’s hope he will be out of diapers by then.

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Published on May 05, 2013 17:23 • 47 views

July 29, 2012

What do you think is the most ubiquitous design in the world? My money is on this design:

If Roger Cook and Don Shanosky received a royalty every time the design was used, they could afford a gold plated, temperature-controlled commode that played Beethoven’s Ninth every time they sat on it. But they don’t, and my guess is that they have fairly ordinary cans in their homes. But they did receive the Presidential Award for Design Excellence from President Reagan for their Symbol Signs series, which included this icon. I now realize this is pretty fertile ground for jokes, but I won’t go there. Not now anyway.

My friend Ottilie spends her summers in Asia. This summer, she packed up the kids and spent two months in Saigon, Sumatra and Bali. WC’s have been on her mind after traveling through Asia with two young boys. Here are some pics she took of WC signs in Tokyo and Singapore.

In this picture taken in Singapore, every stall is for a different audience: Stall #1 for Mom+kid, Stall #1 for the elderly and Stall #3 for people who like to sit on the potty. Now if Singapore wasn’t so far away, I’d ask Ot to take a pic of what’s behind door #2, since I can’t imagine…

Then there is Stall #4 for people who prefer to squat. Uh-huh.

A pit stop in Tokyo revealed more signs for more bathrooms. Here’s one that provides a refreshing squirt after use. Nice, yes?

And then there is the WC with a baby changing station.

How about this one? Apparently, this stall has a hole in the floor for squatting with a little ledge.

Ottilie suggested the title for my next book: A-B-WC. I think I may have to travel to Asia soon for the research!

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Published on July 29, 2012 14:20 • 137 views

June 27, 2012

Flight 123 has landed. On my editor’s desk at Chronicle Books. It will be a sequel to Backseat ABSee, but it’s a counting book about airport/flight signage.

I am working on three picture books this year, and all celebrate flight somehow. I’m about to start working on a sequel to Hopper and Wilson, who will soar in space in a paper airplane to fetch a star (Fall 2013), and then there is CATCHING KISSES (Winter 2013), written by Amy Gibson, about a blown kiss that dances, bounces, zigs and zags its way throughout the book towards its rightful owner. Three different books, each giving form to the flight experience.

Who wants to fly come fly with me?

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Published on June 27, 2012 12:46 • 98 views

May 6, 2012

When I was in Holland, I stumbled across a vintage enamel KLM sign in a shop in Amsterdam.

I am a sucker for vintage airline stuff: posters, graphics, fashion, interiors, suitcases. It’s all so beautiful.

Flying used to be chic. A grand experience. My grandmother wore her best fur coat when my grandparents flew from Amsterdam to Montreal together in the 1950′s. They sipped champagne, chatted with the other passengers in the on-board lounge with open bar and were disappointed when it was time to buckle up for descent. Airlines used to have tag lines like “Your Velvet Carpet to the World” (Lufthansa) and the stewardesses looked fabulous. Check this out!

I would so wear that. Check out the boots!

The graphics  were also übercool.

I’m quite partial to the Pan Am logo, which is a thing of beauty. Now close your eyes and imagine that thing on a bag…Poof! Done.

Oooooh. Nice, huh?

Now pour yourself a drink, sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!

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Published on May 06, 2012 13:55 • 68 views

April 11, 2012

Today is the book birthday of Backseat ABSee, my new book with Chronicle.

This book was the first one I did in Adobe Illustrator, and it sparked a completely new style for me. It helps me create bold shapes, high contrast, stylized characters and vector graphics that can be scaled up and down without losing detail. I am also trying hard these days to forget everything I've learned in art school. Especially the bits about anatomy. This in an effort to make characters that are simplified and stylized.

So I guess along with the book, a new style was born.  As inspiration, I have been looking at the work of Saul Bass. He was an American graphic designer best known for his masterful film title sequences. He is an expert at paring shapes down to their essence.

Check this sequence out for It's a Mad Mad Mad World:

His children's book Henri's walk to Paris has some beautiful imagery. Look! Look!

Here are other graphics he created that just make my head spin:

Makes me think illustrators spend the first half of their lives learning how to draw, and the second half unlearning it. Gotta go!

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Published on April 11, 2012 12:00 • 54 views

April 2, 2012

Pal Matthew Willcox, who heads FCB's Institute of Decision Making, told me about compatriot Jonah Lehrer. Jonah is a neuroscientist who studied literature and philosophy at Oxford, and has a couple of interesting things to say about how creativity works.

Check out his interview with Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air

and his book trailer for IMAGINE, which is lovely. Enjoy.

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Published on April 02, 2012 10:42 • 46 views