Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Richard Cowdrey - July 27

Happy Birthday Richard Cowdrey - July 27

I was introduced to Richard Cowdrey by a new friend at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference this month.  She encouraged me to tell him all about my Happy Birthday Author blog.  Richard listened as I went on and on about how I celebrate author's birthdays with my children and I asked if he would be willing to share his birthday.  He responded, "Sure, it is July 27th, but I am not an author." Luckily, I was aware of this and had been wrestling with the idea of celebrating picture book illustrator's birthdays before attending the conference.  It was clear to me after meeting Richard Cowdrey and listening to his inspirational keynote that my family and I needed to read more of his books and celebrate his birthday.

Richard Cowdrey illustrates the well-known Marley Series by John Grogan. He also has illustrated holiday favorites The Christmas Baby by Marion Dane Bauer and Frosty the Snowman.  He stated in an interview with Education News, "I had been drawing and making things, as far back as I can remember. I was the kid in class that was being praised one minute for my 'outstanding talent and creativity' and the next minute being sent to the principal's office for 'drawing too much and not paying attention in class'." At the Mazza Museum Summer Conference he told the story about how his high school art teacher helped him obtain a scholarship at the Columbus College of Art and Design by presenting samples of his doodles and sketches -- many on the back of tests -- that he gathered up from around the high school.  "CCAD gave me a wonderful art education and probably more importantly at the time, taught me some discipline." He also grew spiritually while at CCAD learning to view his artistic ability as a God-given talent and his illustrating as "a calling."

Early in Richard Cowdrey's career he spent time perfecting his painting skills at Hallmark Greeting Card and spent ten years illustrating calendars for Longaberger.  He also created illustrations for Mead Co.'s Trapper Keeper portfolios which gave him a reputation for producing breathtaking wildlife art. As a result he landed the assignment to create the artwork for Superbowl XXXII in San Diego. His first picture book was Animal Lullabies by Pam Conrad which was followed up by Frosty the Snowman.  Cowdrey explained at Mazza that it was the Frosty book that put him in the running for Marley.   John Grogan wanted to see how he would illustrate the scenario of a dog snatching a paycheck from a Dad.  For Cowdrey, his own yellow lab at home, Murphy, gave him a sense of already knowing John Grogan's character, Marley.  His illustration was "far and away, the best" and the rest is history (Click here to read more about Richard from John Grogan's Blog).

This week the latest Marley book, Trick or Treat, Marley! was released.  I was lucky that the book was available at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference and I was able to get it signed for my children.  Cowdrey said at the conference, "I am the happiest with Trick or Treat, Marley!" My kids loved the sequence of illustrations where Marley interferes with the pumpkin carving!

This week in an addition to many of the Marley books my children really enjoyed The Sandman which Richard Cowdrey illustrated for Ralph Fletcher. It is a story about Tor, a man "not more than a few inches high" that discovers a dragon's scale while on a walk.  Tor, who suffers from sleeplessness, decides to file the jagged edge of the dragon scale when a gust of wind blows the dust into his eyes.  Magically, Tor has his first restful night in quite some time.  Upon waking, he realizes that he could use the dragon scale dust to help children that are having trouble sleeping at night.  Strangely, my son has always responded, "I fall asleep with my eyes open," when I tell him to just close his eyes and go to sleep.  I now know he must be waiting for the Sandman to come rolling up on his bed in his mouse-drawn cart to sprinkle dragon scale dust in his eyes.

My daughter suggested that we celebrate Richard Cowdrey's birthday by making our own dragon scale dust with green colored sugar.  However, I anticipated a "Marley-sized" mess all over my kitchen.  So, I thought of next best thing -- glitter?!?  My wife said, "You're getting out the glitter?"
My children drew a dragon scale with jagged edges on a piece of cardboard.  The cardboard was very thick so I did the cutting.
Each side of the scale was lightly painted with green all-purpose craft paint.
My son was the first to finish painting and he applied glue on one side of the dragon scale.
Then, pressed the glued side of the scale onto the plate that held gold, silver, and green glitter.
He was quite pleased with his dragon scale.  They were having so much fun we glittered both sides!
Success! AND The glitter stayed contained too! (well...for the most part!)
My daughter was inspired to paint a dragon similar to the remarkable full page spread in middle of the book.  In the story, Tor needs to obtain another scale from the dragon in order to continue helping sleepless children. Therefore, he had to go find the dragon.
Can you feel the heat from the fire?
I spoke with Richard Cowdrey last week while he was busy working on the illustrations for his upcoming book, The Donkey No One Could Ride by Anthony DeStephano.  This book is about the "timeless story of the donkey who carries Jesus into Jerusalem for a joyful finish." The book is set to be released in February which will be in time for Easter.  I asked him to share a birthday memory or tradition:

Sixteen years ago we moved to our house in the country that sits on about ten acres. I have four children and when they were young we started them in 4-H.  Before this, I had zero experience raising animals. But, through the years my children raised sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, and a goat named Norman. 

I remember the pigs starting so cute and cuddley, but would grow up to be earth movers by fair time! I built a basic shed which they knocked over and tore it to shreds.  My neighbor helped when it was time to transport the pigs to the fair. We had a wrestling match to get them into the truck. 

Our smallish county fair has always been around my birthday where I have spent lots of time with my children showing their animals, spending time with family, and eating "fair" food!

Richard, thank you so much for sharing your birthday thoughts.  My family and I hope you have a wonderful birthday. Thank you for being the first illustrator birthday that we have celebrated on the blog!

1. Richard Cowdrey's Website
2. Richard Cowdrey Illustration Portfolio Images - Shannon Associates
3. Interview with Richard Cowdrey - Education News
4. A Very Marley Christmas Downloadable Activities - HarperCollins (Great for Christmas in July!!)
5. Marley and the Kittens Coloring Page - HarperCollins
6. Browse Inside This is the Day by Nancy White Carlstrom - Zondervan
7. Nancy White Carlstrom's This is the Day Webpage + activity ideas
8. John Grogan's Children's Book Page + more on Marley and Me
9. The Donkey No One Could Ride Info - Harvest House Publishers + more info from Amazon
10. Photo of Richard Cowdrey Drawing Marley at the Mazza Musuem - Facebook
11. More on Richard Cowdrey - John Grogan's Blog


  1. What an interesting idea of a blog! I love your children's Craft session. It's such an effective way of getting them to read and to know about the literary greats.

  2. Claudine - Thank you so much for visiting! My children love crafts. Actually, they practically begged me for activities. Sometimes, I can't keep the ideas coming fast enough!


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