Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Birthday, Elly MacKay - July 5

Happy Birthday, Elly MacKay - July 5

"Spread some magic." That's a saying, right? I think I have heard people say that before. Maybe Disney used it as a slogan once? If it's not a saying or a slogan, it sounds like good words to live by. Last summer at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference I was lucky enough to hear Elly MacKay speak. She talked about her parents and her childhood growing up in Canada. Family is very important to her. She talked about her father, a potter and a photographer, and described him as someone who "believes in finding the magic in nature." As I was researching for this post, double-checking all my notes, and reading online reviews and interviews I noticed that many describe Elly's art as "magical" too. Magic. Spread some magic. I thought maybe, just maybe, with the help of Elly's books my children and I could spread a little magic too.

Elly MacKay is the illustrator of seven books including Maya by Mahak Jain, Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland, and her own, Shadow Chasers. All of her books are illustrated in the unique style of photographs taken of miniature worlds created by cut paper enhanced with light, colored paper, and mirrors within a handmade theater. At the age of fifteen, Elly told her mother, Joan Irvine, a children's author of Build It With Boxes and Easy-To-Make Pop-Ups, illustrated by Barbara Reid, that she wanted to be a paper engineer. (Mazza Museum Keynote, Summer Conference 2016). Her mom seized the opportunity and took Elly "around the country" to meet paper engineers and learn victorian paper crafts and dioramas. Shortly thereafter Elly sold her first piece of art, "It was a diorama built in a chocolate wafer tin." (Kathy Temean Blog).

Elly went to Nova Scotia College of Art for printmaking and then tried to make it as an artist with her husband, but found it to be difficult. Elly said, "For one year we made just $8,000 together." (Mazza). Then, for a short time Elly held a job as an art instructor and her husband worked as a carpenter until they had a baby and moved closer to her childhood home, three hours north of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. With the new baby, Elly carved out time to be creative by returning to her teenage years when she created worlds with dioramas. This time instead of creating worlds inside chocolate wafer tins she created them within a small wooden theater built by her husband.
The theater she used for a demonstration at the Mazza Museum is a smaller version than the one she uses for her books. Check out her studio theater via Chatelaine
"One image can tell 50 stories." - Elly MacKay
She began creating scenes inside the wooden theater with Yupo, a synthetic paper. The Yupo was covered with alcohol inks and were cut into different elements for the piece. She added light and colored paper behind the elements to create the background. Then would take up to 50 photographs of one scene and would move the elements around each time to bring a different effect. 

Elly passed around this sailboat created from Yupo paper during her keynote presentation.
Her artwork was selling "really well" on her Etsy shop when she was contacted by an agent. This agent sold Elly's first two books, If You Hold a Seed and Shadow Chasers. Now, Elly continues to create worlds and spread magic through her unique illustrations. You will soon get the chance to explore another miniature world when her next book, Waltz of the Snowflakes, becomes available October 17, 2017.

For our birthday celebration for Elly MacKay I chose to feature the two books she autographed for my children at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference 2016. 

If You Hold a Seed and Butterfly Park.
We started our celebration by reading If You Hold a Seed
The first line of the book is:
"If you hold a seed, 
And make a wish, 
And plant it in the ground...
Something magical can happen." 
The little boy in the story plants a seed with a wish and waits and watches his tree grow. He experiences the seasons change and observes the magic of nature. Years pass until one day his wish from long ago comes true.
After reading the book, I told my youngest two children that we were going to make magical seed shapes. This was a special activity just for my two little gardeners while their older brother and sister were at camp.
They tore 3 to 4 pieces of colorful construction paper into smaller pieces.
My daughter said, "I made a paper salad."
Next, we poured water over the paper and let it soak for 10 minutes.
As the paper soaked they each picked a shape from our large collection of cookie cutters.
When Elly signed our copy of If You Hold a Seed she wrote, "Plant some wishes with your seeds." So, I wrote "I wish for________," on a small piece of paper for them to fill in to include in their magical seed shape. My daughter wished for a desk and my son wished for a lizard!
The wishes were folded really small. We would use them in a minute after we pulverized our paper!
She was pretty excited to push the buttons.
She placed a thin layer of paper pulp into the cookie cutter.
Then, she added her wish.
Then, the seeds.
Lastly, another layer paper pulp was added on top. We used a towel and pushed down to soak up as much water as possible.
We placed the cookie sheet with the magical seed shapes in the sun to dry.
The next day we popped the magical seed shapes out of the cookie cutter.
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It was fun picking out the perfect place to put the magical seed shapes.
My son found an open spot in our butterfly garden.
Did someone say, "butterfly"? I have a book for that!
We read Butterfly Park on the bench in our butterfly garden.
"They arrived with boots and gnomes and wagons. They brought trowels and dirt and shovels. They showed her that plants need roots to grow. Together, everyone planted until the park was brimming with flowers and laughter."
Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay
After just five days something magical began to happen.
The seeds began to sprout!
I wonder when our wishes will come true!
Elly, it was so nice to meet you at the Mazza Museum last summer. We hope you have a wonderful birthday. This nature-loving family really loves your books! Thank you for spreading your magic!

Watch for Elly's next book, Waltz of the Snowflakes, October 2017. Pre-order it today:

2. Follow Elly MacKay on Facebook, Twitter
3. Elly MacKay's Etsy Shop
4. Interviews - Chatelaine, Bright Group, Kathy Temean's Blog, Ruth Ellen Parlour's Blog, The Cart Before The Horse,
5. Chasing Shadows: The Magical Realities of Elly MacKay
6. Amri Studios Digital Donor Wall Boston Children's Hospital featuring art by Elly MacKay - YouTube

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