My book, “Milkweed Manor,” is a project that’s 10 months old now, and it’s gone through fits and starts before I made the commitment last November to make it my full time creative project for 2019. Yes, I’ve written books before, but they’re art instruction books and not fiction. Not only are they not fiction, but I never even considered writing fiction. So what was the genesis of “Milkweed Manor?”
A year ago I was working hard on my Etsy shop, and pondering the question of how to add value to my little ceramic animal figurines. I was working on two little girl squirrels whom I had named Effie and Lily, after my grandmother and her sister, when I realized that I was spinning little stories about them as I sculpted. My plan was to write booklet tags to go with the figurines. But gradually the story, and not the figurines, became the focus of my work and “Milkweed Manor” was born.
Milkweed Manor is a very old manor house in England or Wales. The human family has lived there for a thousand years, and there are still ruins of the original Norman tower on the property. But it has been a long time since the Manor's glory days. The last of the family, an elderly gentleman, lives there now, alone except for a bare bones staff.
But as the manor itself declines, the animal community in the forest behind the manor house is thriving. The forest is a place of peace and well-being. The animals live together in harmony, and it is their stories that now form the story of Milkweed Manor.
What Kind of Squirrels Live at Milkweed Manor?
I had two kinds of squirrels in mind for these roles - the Western Grey squirrel (at left) or the Eurasian Red squirrel (at right, but in a form that's more gray than red). My initial choice was the Western Grey because I know them so well. The one in the picture is one of the many youngsters I've raised and released in my role as a proud member of Sierra Wildlife Rescue's Squirrel Team!
But when I researched squirrels in England and Wales I found that the Eurasian Red squirrel is the only squirrel native to the British Isles. Sadly, Eastern Grey squirrels introduced from the US are threatening the red squirrel populations in some areas. Many Brits are none too happy about that and there are intense conservation programs desperately trying to save these beloved rodents! To be fair to the greys, they're not aggressive. They are just more successful - breeding more successfully, thriving on a wider diet, and living in more diverse areas - in dwindling habitat than their native cousins
So...the Milkweed Manor squirrels are Eurasian Reds!
Since my January newsletter, I've moved on from rats and have drawn many Little Owls in my sketchbook,. Now I'm working on squirrels. Here' a pair of young ones, showing four steps from beginning to end that I thought you might enjoy. i'm using .5mm mechanical pencils with HB and 2B leads. If I were doing finished drawings, I would proceed to softer leads - 3B and 4B - for much darker darks. But those soft leads don't hold up very well in a sketchbook as the pages rub against each other..
I'm just beginning the drawing, sketching in the outlines of the two young squirrels then beginning to add fur to the one. I've added little lines on the body to indicate the direction that the fur grows, as it's important to draw the fur in the direction it actually grows. ( By the way, sorry for the terrible quality of these photos. I find drawings really difficult to photograph.)
Now I've done the first layer of fur on both squirrels and started on the leaves and berries. So far, I'm just using the HB pencil. You may be wondering why the squirrels don't have tufts on their ears. Turns out that they grow them in September for the winter then lose them in the spring. I don't know why it's beneficial to have ear tufts in the winter - they can't help them keep the animals, can they?
Finished with the HB pencil, the harder lead that makes the lighter marks.
You may have noticed that although the previous stage of the drawing had a lot of texture, the squirrels didn't have much form. To correct that, I switched to the darker, softer 2B pencil and added shading. The final fun step is to add a few notes. In this case, the squirrels are talking to each other. I think these little ones are awfully cute. They'll be my models for Effie and Lily. I can tell that they're not particularly young squirrels because their tails are well filled out, but I think their faces have the look of youth. I would slim the tails down and shorten their bodies if I wanted them to look younger.
This month, I'm offering you, my precious subscribers, a 25% discount in my Etsy shop. The offer applies to everything in the shop, including this ceramic valentine white rabbit ornament. From Feb 1 to Feb 15, just use discount code ICYCOLD25 at checkout. I ship the day after I receive your order, and shipping is free. Click on the image to the right to go to my shop!
This Month’s Free Downloadable Art - Groundhog Family, Duchess and her Cubs
Click on the image and it will open in a new window (from dropbox.com). You’ll see the image, and at the upper right of the window you’ll see three little dots. Click on them to open a menu, then choose “download.” This file is 2mb. Please note that I’m sharing this image for your personal use only.
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