Monday, December 14, 2015

Poem: The Parliament of Owls

An overdue update to the's a reveal of the poem that goes with this illustration (which was published in The Story Warren Reader: Volume 2)


The Parliament of Owls will now come to order...
Something must be done about this trouble at the border.

Now I'm not one to meddle in the business of ferrets,
Or disturb the operations of the Company of Parrots,
But as the noted chairman of this most distinguished board,
I have to say, murder of crows should never be ignored!

This Mob of Kangaroos has gotten way too out of hand,
And that Pack of Wolves is slowly taking over our whole land.
If what they teach in that School of Fish does not change for the better,
I think we'll have to write to them a reprimanding letter...

For if the Colony of Rats cannot protect their plants,
I fear we'll have to call upon our own Army of Ants.
It’s a shame in my opinion, and I really must confess
It’s the pride of lions that contributes to this awful mess.

But now it's getting late my friends, the dawn is drawing near,
So the Congress of Baboons will have to take it all from here.

Monday, October 26, 2015


It's the week for another blog update. I just got back from my last work trip for the year to Mexico City, where I got to soak up some inspiration and meet some great people. Work in general has been crazy-busy with many long hours put in, plus family life and other things to do — but the book is always there, on the back burner of my brain.

Earlier this year, I had been telling friends that the book might be ready for release around this time, but obviously the book said "I'm not ready" and many important changes were needed. It's in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment, as I've cast a few nets out into the publishing world and waiting to see if anything catches. Once I know more about how this pans out, let's just say a release time for the book will become clearer.

In the meantime, I do have other projects I'm thinking about and playing with. Part of the process behind the Gnomes book was cutting out several poems that didn't fit into the thematic flow it's taken on, so these "cut-outs" are being formulated into a second volume. My working title, at this point, is There Would Be Owls Everywhere.

I also have ideas for some short stories and sketches which might come together into another book, currently in mind as a working title of The Ice Cream Truck at Midnight. This book concept is inspired in part by the insanely-brilliant work of Shaun Tan, particularly his masterpiece Tales from Outer Suburbia. This image of the water buffalo is from that book, which I bought a used copy from a friend who was having a moving sale, and it opened up a vista to me in terms of the style of storytelling and the kind of work I'd like to do.

On top of all this, I have a rough outline for a fantasy novel, based on a draft I wrote 16 years ago. Some of the characters in Gnomes of the Cheese Forest and Other Poems are actually from this story. Every now and then I jot down some ideas for fleshing this project out.

So this is what's on my mind, when I have moments to spare. It's like a water buffalo pointing the way to directions on an invisible map. I only know there is one direction he's pointing me to, but I won't know how to trace the rest of the journey until I've arrived.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Toast

Here's a bonus poem which I revealed on Instagram: Enjoy some HAPPY TOAST!

A photo posted by Ken A. Priebe (@ken.a.priebe) on

Progress on the actual book has slowed down a bit due to crazy-busy-ness at work which has included some travel of late, recently to Seattle and soon to Mexico City.  I am, however, participating in #Inktober for the first time, creating a new ink drawing everyday just for fun, and to keep me drawing & experimenting with new techniques. I'm hoping some new ideas for future poems or books may come out of it. Follow me on Instagram or Twitter to see what I'm posting.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Instagram Happenings

I've recently started posting some fun stuff for the book on Instagram, including some of my "poetry postcards" and behind-the-scenes drawings. Some of them are embedded here, and you can FOLLOW ME to see more, along with other random images of birds, children's books, and weird things.

A video posted by Ken A. Priebe (@ken.a.priebe) on
A video posted by Ken A. Priebe (@ken.a.priebe) on
A photo posted by Ken A. Priebe (@ken.a.priebe) on  

The work you see me doing here are new illustrations for The Boy Who Looked Up, which I decided needed a re-vamp to the layout. At this point, it's the story that ties up the book near the end, hence the re-vamp. I've been thinking about these drawings for a long while and finally found time to work on them in the past week or so.

As far as the whole process for the book goes, it's still been going through a few more changes as of late, and I've also been thinking through my publishing options and making some plans around that. With school starting, there have also been several days of "leaving it alone" both for practical and sanity reasons.

Looking ahead, I now feel that I have enough material from the poems & drawings which I cut out to warrant a second volume after this one, so I'm starting to work on this too. So far I have a working title and an assemblage of which poems would be included, plus ideas for new ones. More soon...

Monday, September 14, 2015

The First Griffin

Production and other developments still moving along on the book, particularly on a few illustrations which are being re-done and the occasional re-shuffling of words. More on this later. For now, another free reveal for a recently revised poem.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Stories Inside Me

This week I'm sharing a complete poem which, at this point anyway, has been placed on the cutting room floor for Gnomes of the Cheese Forest and Other Poems, not because I don't favor it, but simply because it doesn't fit into the flow of how the other poems are presently grouped together. So I think it's safe to reveal it here. Update: I put this poem back in the book. 

I share it because it fits into where my head and heart are at the moment, while thinking, planning and wrestling through practical matters related to the book's production.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Tiny Drawing Details

This week I'm posting a few tiny cropped details from a few more illustrations, just to tease you and generally annoy you. You'll just have to wait to see what the rest of these drawings look like. 

As far as where the book stands, it's gone through many changes. What started as a collection of 103 poems in total has been whittled down to about 62 that are intended to stay in this particular work. The others are going into storage, but I'm sure many of them will be resurrected into another book or some other form after this one. I may do another collection of poetry (a "sequel" if you will), or perhaps a combination of poems and short stories I'm brewing. I don't know yet. 

At this point, without going into too much detail, Gnomes of the Cheese Forest and Other Poems, as a work in itself, has greatly benefited from this drastic round of edits, and it's still constantly changing! Every few days I find something else that needs the juice squeezed out of it, but it's all part of the process. 

As for when it's all done? We shall see. It's not up to me. The book has a life of its own and I'm merely listening to it. 

(But soon....) 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Inspiration Monday: Maurice Sendak

I've given nods to Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss on the blog already, so it's long overdue for me to express my gratitude to the other "Big S" illustrator who has inspired much of the work that's going into this book.

Not much needs to be said here, as three years ago, upon hearing of Mr. Sendak's death, I wrote an extensive reflection on my website already.

I invite you to hop outside over there to read it: "Outside Over There: Reflections on Maurice Sendak

Hearing the news of his passing still haunts me to this day, and I look back upon it as a major turning point in my return to making books. Since then, I've only continued to expand my education on the life and career of this great artist who's been a bigger influence on me than I ever realized. Every now and then I stumble upon another book (in a used book store) that he illustrated, which I never even knew existed. 

It was around the same time he passed away away that I began writing poems again, which grew...and grew...and grew like the forest in Max's bedroom into where my book currently stands. I find much solace and purpose in his own words: 

"All my life I have been in the fortunate position of doing - creating - what came naturally to me. What could be more wonderful than a dream of childhood coming true?  As a small boy, I pasted and clipped my bits of books together and hoped only for a life that would allow me to earn my bread my making books. And here I am, all grown up - still staying home, pasting and clipping bits of books together."

Monday, July 13, 2015

Poems in Print

I'm very honored (and my Canadian side is honoured) to have three of my poems & illustrations included in this new volume of works by the good people of Story Warren. Pretty neat to see them in print for the first time. (They include The Parliament of Owls, The Goth Mime and The Cricket Watcher)

This great little book is full of artwork, short stories and poems by other writers and illustrators who are part of the Story Warren collective, and was handed out to attendees at their recent Inkwell Family Conference in North Carolina. The cover drawing is by illustrator Joe Sutphin, whose work I really enjoy. (I'm crazy about his Rats of NIMH gallery!)

They may have copies of this reader available through their site in the near future, and I'll let you know when that happens. In the meantime, check out the other stuff they have on their site, including S.D. Smith's wonderful novel The Green Ember and brand new prequel The Black Star of Kingston (out today!). They both feature rabbits with swords.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Before and After...

Here's a little example of how I've been playing with many of the poems in the book, in terms of adding more life to the form and structure of the words, and the layout of how they interact with the illustrations.

See my rough "before" version of the poem, just laid-out with the words more or less as-is and the illustration....and my "after" version once I've been playing with the formatting so it all ties in better.

(This poem, by the way, is based on a true story of something that happened in our house, with our daughter Ariel.)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Back to the Drawing Board

On to printed "Dummy Book" Version 3, which is saying a lot to its "Dummy Author" at present, and he is very glad.

The last couple weeks have been earth-shattering-ly (is that even a word?) eye-opening for the process of putting this book together. After valuable feedback from trusted colleagues and friends, and spending hours of mad-obsessive thought and revision...

Remember that post from a few months back saying all the drawings were finished? Well, they're close, but not quite. A few revelations of late will be causing me to re-jig a few illustrations....and on the writing side, let me just say there have been many, many changes afoot.

BUT...these changes are opening up entire worlds to me that are blowing my mind, and I think it will result in a much better book that is worthy of its audience. I shall keep you in suspense for the time being - lest I jinx myself further - but hold on to your hats...I'll let you know when it's safe. It's all part of the process.

Many thanks go out to my friends David Robinson (for his word-smithing suggestions) and Laura Thomas, who gave me lots to think about in terms of revising and editing. Check out Laura's books and workshops for young'll be glad you did.

Thanks also go out to S.D. (Sam) Smith of Story Warren, who offered me some very valuable insight for the book. This weekend in North Carolina he is hosting the annual INKWELL Conference for young writers & artists, and I really wish I could be there! But part of me is, as Sam also kindly invited me to submit a few poems for their "Story Warren Reader" publication, which will be handed out to attendees there. This makes me happy.

Stay tooned, friends...

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Reading in the Woods

I'm re-arranging my bi-weekly schedule on the blog because something fun related to the book has just been posted online.

My office at VanArts is right next to the Acting Department, and one of their instructors, Gabriel Carter, asked if I'd be up for reading my poems on his online, low-tech & one-take talk/variety show Dog's Breakfast, which features a "surreal segment" in each episode.

I agreed, but with an additional thought: What if I could get a goblin puppet to read them? Gabriel, a big Muppet fan, got very excited, so he took me out to the wilderness of Vancouver for a fun little film shoot with my "friend" Skraboonikus the Moss Goblin.

Here is Episode 3.1 of Dog's Breakfast featuring slam poet Mike McGee, musical guest The Population Drops, and "A Reading in the Woods" (which starts at 16:53). Enjoy, and thanks to Gabriel and his lovely fiancee & co-host Nhi Do for sharing this!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Interview...and Cover in Progress

I've recently been interviewed as a guest artist on the Canadian Animation Blog by kind invitation of Grayden Laing, where I answer questions about my book and my animation work.


In other news, my animation gig has wrapped and I'm now working hard on trying to get the front and back cover right for the book. In some ways, the cover is more important than what's inside the book, as it's the thing that should entice one to pick it up and open it in the first place.

So far, this is the one detail I'm mostly happy with.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Inspiration Monday: The Decemberists and Other Musical Storytellers

It's been awhile since I did an "Inspiration Monday" post, and I've been listening to lots of music while working on my animation gig, so I thought I would muse a bit about it. I often listen to music while I draw, and the inspiration I soak up from it finds a way in when I write.

A few years ago I wrote a long-winded 3-part exploration on my website of the albums and songs from different stages of my entire life that always found their way back to my favorite playlists. One of the recurring themes I found that emerged was that I'm inexplicably drawn to music with a story-telling bent to it. (I also seem to be drawn to songs about sea voyages, which I still don't quite understand.) This love for storytelling in song reaches back to pop/rock artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Pink Floyd to classical pieces like Peter and the Wolf and Night on Bald Mountain. 

In more recent years I have become a huge fan of The Decemberists, and their passion for ghost stories, ancient Victorian melodramas and strange, dark fairy tales like The Hazards of Love, a rock-opera which I can only describe as "Romeo and Juliet with shape-shifting forest creatures." Their lyrics to Youth and Beauty Brigade (off their first album Castaways and Cut-Outs)had a slight influence on one of the poems in my book called COME TO THE FEAST, around the theme of calling in various outcasts and questionable characters (or as they call them, "bed-wetters and ambulance-chasers") to some sort of gathering. I listened to The Decemberists a lot while illustrating Gnomes of the Cheese Forest and Other Poems, and expect this will continue to be the case with future works, as they keep showing me new layers of inspiration with each listen.

If you haven't yet discovered the genius of their musical craft, I recommend starting with The Crane Wife and branching off from there.

As for the book, a few changes are still being made as I share drafts with friends for feedback and revisions, and chip away at polishing it further. I'm close to wrapping up the animation project I've been working on, and plan on getting the cover finalized and creating some proofs for final revisions throughout the summer. And also, there will be some videos to watch. Stay tuned!

...oh, and if you're not yet following my book page on Facebook, LIKE!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Illustration Lesson #2

Howdy folks....continuing from my previous post on illustration tips, this week I'm sharing a few words about CONTRAST and EYE DIRECTION. This applies to all image-making whether it be an illustration or a scene in an animated film.

Your viewer's eye will always be drawn to wherever the starkest light/dark contrast is in your image. For black & white drawings this is especially crucial and at its most basic. Your blackest-black and whitest-white should POP off the page wherever you want your viewer to look first. If your drawing has a lot of detail this is especially important, as it really helps to have one central focal point to draw the eye to, and then let it explore the rest of the image from there.

If it's one large character or character face, the eyes are the most important feature to draw in your viewer. For the Wise Ancient Tree I put in the darkest-darks in large patches around his eyes, so they wouldn't let lost in the rest of his detailed face.

Same thing here with Professor Stitch-Wicket in the forest....surrounding him with lots of black in the background makes him pop from the page and not get lost. He is the central focal point of the drawing, so it's important that he be noticed.

Some of the elements around the professor also direct your eye and literally point towards him, for example the white bill of the woodpecker pointing in his direction, echoed around him by the bear's snout, the branch on the log and other animals all pointed towards him.

(Click on these images to see them better...they will grow!)

Try to find ways to frame your character with shapes that will direct the eye towards one central focal point. In this drawing, elements on the Professor's left (the test tube and weighing apparatus) lean in straight and diagonal while elements on the right repeat a curved shape (in the feather, microscope, his hair and shoulder), all leading the eye to the area in the drawing where his eye stares intensely at his scientific work, which is the whole point of this particular moment in the story.

Simply put, ask yourself what one thing this drawing (or shot) needs to communicate to your audience about the story you are telling, and find a way to draw your viewer's eye to that one single point that communicates this with the most clarity.

I hope that helps!

Monday, April 13, 2015

National Poetry Month

In the spirit of April being National Poetry Month, I thought I would share some poetry, and you, dear bloggie reader, can join me!

Go to this album on Facebook or #cheeseforest on Twitter and you will find a series of "Poetry Postcards" which you can share or re-tweet with your poetry-loving companions.

...and speaking further of poetry, check out more excellent resources at StoryWarren and keep an eye out for this film coming to theaters in August.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Boy Who Looked Up

Movin' right along! For this new post, I'm sharing a peek at one of the long-form poems in the book which spreads out over several pages, and reads like a Dr. Seuss-ish short story nestled within the shorter one-pager and two-pager poems.

The spark of inspiration for this story came unexpectedly when a friend of mine, author & film critic-extraordinaire Jeffrey Overstreet (who recently invited me onto his blog for an online conversation about the film SONG OF THE SEA, which you can read here), posted on Facebook a short video he took one day, pointing his camera up while walking under a beautiful canopy of trees on Seattle Pacific University’s campus where he works, with a caption including "I can't help looking up as I walk."

Something told me there was an idea for a poem there, and eventually out of thoughts & doodles in the sketchbook there emerged a young boy who spent all day with his neck cradled back and looking up at the sky. This got me thinking...

...what if his head got stuck that way?  And what impact would this have on his life and the lives of others around him?  Hmmm....

Thus was born a poetic tale called The Boy Who Looked Up, a story that I look forward to sharing with the wider world. For now, here are a few of the illustrations, plus a little Vine that shows a few snaps I took as the drawings were in progress. Most of these drawings were done this past December.

If you've noticed a pattern to these Monday posts, I'm now posting something every two weeks, but may share stuff more frequently when the book is nearly ready to launch. We'll see.

In the meantime, keep looking up and share what you see!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Parliament of Owls

Not much time for a lengthy post this week, as my day-job is kinda crazy-busy and I'm knee deep in an animation project, so for now, here is a reveal of another illustration: The Parliament of Owls.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Illustration Lesson #1

Welcome back kids! As a brand new feature on this blog, now that I've reached the milestone of all the illustrations being complete, I thought I would start giving back a bit and share some tips and advice for my fellow artists, illustrators, animators and other creative types who may be following along or stumble across this online. Some of these tips may be pretty obvious if you have any good amount of art training, or they may not be, depending on your background, so for the sake of wherever you are at as an artist, this is my way of just sharing a few of the things I try to remember or think about as I draw. With practice, many of these things will come naturally and just be part of your drawing vocabulary. I'll do a few more of these over the coming months as I continue moving towards the book being launched.

For this first "lesson," I'll just say a few simple things about composition, using this illustration for the title poem Gnomes of the Cheese Forest as an example.

All through middle school and high school I took drawing and painting classes with an amazing artist from Detroit named Nancy Prophit. She has since passed away, so it's my honor and privilege to share with you one of her many tips that's always stuck with me. Mrs. Prophit taught me that if you have several objects in a picture, particularly if it's a plural number of the same object, it's always best to group them in odd numbers. Avoid having too many even numbers of things in your picture, as this will make things look rigid and symmetrical. Odd numbers will appear more pleasing to the eye and more natural.

For example, in this illustration there are 5 "cheese trees", 7 gnomes, 3 goblets, and 5 rock "clusters" (meaning one rock or a larger/smaller rock grouped together).

With scenes/pictures featuring multiple characters, also try to find some variety in which direction they are facing. The two gnomes on the left are drawn facing each other, the next two gnomes facing away from each other (with one of them slightly further away in the background), and the next group of three are all facing inwards in a semi-circle.

Try to frame your background elements around your characters so they frame them in interesting ways, avoiding tangent lines and simply trying to find ways to make everything fit.

Anyway, I hope that helps! Happy Drawing!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Drawings are Finished!

It's Happy Dance Time, folks! I'm excited to announce a major milestone for the book, one that has been well over a year in the making.

All of the illustrations are now COMPLETE!

Many have been scrapped, re-drawn, fussed over, and tinkered with ad naseum, but at this point I think I've fussed enough and finally happy with where they're at. And the timing is good too, because I now have another freelance animation gig to start working on for the next few months.

But production will still be moving forward on the book, as I have been doing all the layouts simultaneously as I go, so now it's just a matter of going in and doing some digital clean-up and throwing them into InDesign for the final layout.

There is also the front and back cover, which will need some further attention (already in progress), but the inside is pretty well spoken for and in a happy place.

So for now, to wet your appetite a bit, here is a snapshot of the rough two-page spread for the INDEX (sans page numbers, to be added in soon) revealing the list of titles for all 103 poems in the book.

(Click the image to make it larger, and enjoy!)  Lots more to come!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Another Video Teaser...

Take a little flight over the sea of drawings for The Great Epic Journey of Professor Stitch-Wicket....

Almost there, friends.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Little Video...

Just a little experiment in showing the evolution behind one of the book's drawings...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Professor Stitch-Wicket comes into focus...

Welcome to my first new post for 2015! A great deal of progress was made over the holidays, particularly on a couple of long-form poems for the book, which I will reveal more about in due time. This blog is officially a year old now, so yay!

Most recently I also had the opportunity to read some of my poems to my daughter's Brownie troop as part of their "literacy day" which was lots of fun. Hope to do more things like this as the book keeps brewing to completion and beyond.

Here is a little sneak-peek into the initial drawing process for one of the new illustrations, for The Great Epic Journey of Professor Stitch-Wicket. I've been waiting for over a year to start working on these drawings, since he first showed up in my sketchbooks over a year ago.

Sometimes I will lay out a full illustration in my sketchbook, which is the best place to make mistakes and experiment. If I like the drawing enough, I will simply scan it in, blow it up, print it out and use it as a base to trace the actual drawing from.

(Click the images to enlarge and see better...)

The next stage will be inking....I'm sure my cat Boris (or his sister Natasha, the other super-spy kitty) will be watching closely. I hope you will be too!