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Music to My Ear
"Music to my Ear" by Keira Zhang, 11 (Los Altos, CA) Published in Stone Soup January 2021 Illustrating "The Director" by Anya Geist, 13 (Worcester, MA)

A note from William

Waitlist for the Saturday Writing Workshop: The writing workshop begins next Saturday, Jan. 23. It is going to be a fun class. We are working with creativity and chance. Yes, we will be rolling dice!

Enrollment was opened to existing class members last week, and 38 students have signed up. As I don’t want the class to get too big, we have closed off registration. If you want to take the class, then please register as soon as possible. You will be added to a waitlist. We will give priority to students who were in the class but haven’t yet registered. If you are in that situation, in addition to registering at EventBrite, please also write to Sarah at sarah@stonesoup.com. We will allow a few more students in, but only a literal few. If a student drops, we will fill that spot from the waitlist, so you do need to get on it to be considered for a spot in the future. Apologies! But we have to give priority to students who area already enrolled.

Art: Firstly, Keira Zhang’s charcoal drawing, Music to my Ears, is just simply gorgeous. Look at it, letting your eye take it in. The drawing is also a technical tour de force. Such a beautiful, warm, and yet odd drawing! That ear! We love this drawing. Which is why it is the cover image for one of our sketchbooks.

What else to say? This work is in a very old Western art tradition—the still life used as a learning tool. Studies of this kind used to be standard practice for people learning to draw. The style is now very rare. In fact, it is vanishingly rare to see such a young artist working in this traditional style. Large forms—including basic forms, like in this case a ball—illuminated with a strong light coming from a clear direction so that it casts sharp shadows.

What is great about the still life for drawing students is that nothing moves! You set up your object, set the light so it shines on it to cast clear shadows, and then you start drawing: Eye. Hand. The strong light, which you see in this drawing, helps emphasize light and dark, which is what Keira was working with to create the illusion of dimensionality in her drawing. By working with I mean focusing on the light and dark and the tonalities in between to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms.

The still life is the ultimate training in eye-hand coordination. Keira worked in charcoal. This offered her a medium that produces a rich, warm drawing while also being at least a little flexible. With charcoal, one can lighten patches that turned out too dark and darken patches that are too light. If you choose to use charcoal, you might consider looking at YouTube videos for some pointers on making a still life with charcoal.

Weekend art project: A still life is the art project for the weekend. Yes, you can do this as a photograph if you wish. You can choose normal household objects or make something that is a bit odd, like Keira’s combination of a huge plaster ear, a ball, and a violin. Balls, triangles, and cubes are very common in this style of still life. For cubes, think of toy blocks or a piece of two-by-four. Whether you are using a camera or drawing, the lighting is the key. Strong lighting emphasizes volume. Strong lighting helps you, as the artist, to focus on light and dark as the way to render volume. The ball in Keira’s drawing looks round because of the very bright part of the ball in the center in contrast to the darker edges. Starting out just drawing a well-illuminated ball could be a good approach.

Pay attention in Keira’s work to the contrast between the deep black and lighter portions of her drawing. There is no way you will achieve a finished charcoal drawing at this level on your first try, so my advice for this weekend it is to keep it simple: set up your scene with a clear, strong light source.

More general advice: Stay relaxed! Don’t be overly critical! If you have never ever done this before, then consider seeking advice form YouTube. One suggestion I am sure you will encounter on YouTube is that you block out images with fuzzy lines—not crisp lines like in a coloring book but thicker, more forgiving approximate outlines. This will enable you to evolve the edges by letting you both add shading and pull shading away as your feel your way to the realistic outline. Courage! If you find yourself getting discouraged, then please stop and come back to the drawing later.

Writing. “The Director,” the story below, is written by Anya Geist. Anya has been writing for Stone Soup for years and is now a Stone Soup intern. She also won the Editor’s Choice in the 2020 Stone Soup Long Form Book Contest. Anya helps post to the website, develop writing prompts, and is helping develop our forthcoming podcasts. Fortunately for Anya, but sadly for us, Anya is now in high school! I haven’t yet checked with Emma or with Anya, but my guess is that this is one of the last, if not the last piece that Anya will have published in Stone Soup. So, I would like to thank Anya for her fabulous writing and photography. Her contributions to Stone Soup will be long remembered—and will be read for years to come. Thank you!

The story you find below, “The Director,” is, also a tour de force, like Keira’s drawing with which it is paired. There is just so much in this story to talk about—and so little space! What I am asking you all to do today is to click on the link and read the story in Stone Soup. Alora, the story’s main character, is brilliantly drawn. She is a complex character. I will say that another way: As you will see, she is an incredibly complex character developed in a very short period of time. There is real depth to Alora. As you read the story, pay attention to how Anya brings this character alive.

“The Director” is a complex story. It takes place in the future. It is a “science fiction” story but, like the best science fiction, it is more than a speculation about the future; it is about character. It is about life. It is about the difficulty of being human.

In this case, Anya’s story is a coming-of-age story. Alora’s coming of age—the challenges she faces finding herself. Alora lives in a time when she has been genetically engineered to be one thing, but it seems her heart might not actually be in it. In other words, the best laid plans by this future civilization to create the people it needs to operate a tightly organized society might not work out. Why? Because people are complicated! Even though, and I agree with Anya, people are going to try, it is not ever going to really be possible to create humans that will fit neatly into little boxes.

What you will see as you read this story is that in it Alora learns something about herself. Structurally, while this story has a clear beginning, middle, and end, I’d say that the end is a new beginning. I say this because it seems to me that this story ends where Alora’s life begins.

For the writing project today I’d like you to invent a character, like Alora, who learns something important about herself. Invent a character who becomes more self aware than she was at the beginning. Of course, in real life, the trick is both discover who you are and to also find a way to organize your life around what you discovered about yourself.

As always, if you like what you draw or write, please go to our website and send it in to Emma for consideration for Stone Soup.

Until next week,

Flash Contest

Congratulations to the winners of our January Flash Contest!

Our January Flash Contest was based on our weekly creativity prompt #134, challenging writers to project themselves 100 years into the future. Entrants took us on journeys to other planets, introduced us to amazing futuristic inventions, launched spaceships and created inventive architecture. Like a lot of the best science fiction, our writers used elements of the present to project us into a possible future. We met realistic characters encountering real problems (such as the longer term effects of climate change), as well as alien creatures and sentient robots. Well done to everyone who worked so hard on their stories, we really appreciated the quality of all the entries this month. In addition to our usual 5 winners and 5 honorable mentions, we selected one entry for publication on the Stone Soup Blog in the coming weeks. Thank you all for sharing your creative visions of the future world with us!

In particular, congratulations to our Winners and Honorable Mentions, listed below. You can read the winning entries for this contest (and previous ones) at the Stone Soup website.

Stranded by Rex Huang, 11, Lake Oswego, OR
The Turning Point by Kaidyn Robertson, 11, Sooke, BC, Canada
A Knock on the President's Door by Ava Shorten, 11, Mallow, Cork, Ireland
The Meteorite by Julia Wang, 12, Wynnewood, PA
True Self by Yasmine Weinberger, 11, Washington, DC

Honorable Mentions
Lunar Scavenger Hunt by Riya Agarwal, 10, Portland, OR
Zen the Space Robot by Ender Ippolito, 9, Portland, OR
Bobbo by Cathy Jiang, 11, Portland, OR
Under the Sea by Grace Mancini, 12, Glenside, PA
A 100 years by Anaiya Nasir, 12, Bellaire TX

Selected for the Blog
2020 by Eden George

Highlights from the past week online

Don't miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at Stonesoup.com!

April, 12, reviewed Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibanez. Read the review to find out why April thinks the book has a little bit of everything and recommends it to anyone looking for a good YA novel.

In her most recent blog post, Lauren takes us through “A Day in the Life of a Sixth Grader,” and in the process reveals some of the challenges of attending school during a pandemic.

Check out another Stone Soup author interview posted to the blog: this time, our intern Anya interviewed Liam Hancock (you might remember his story “Slaying Monsters” from the March 2020 issue!). They talk about inspiration, what it’s like to be published (and rejected sometimes), and more!

Music to My EarFrom Stone Soup
January 2021

The Director

By Anya Geist, 13 (Worcester, MA)
Illustrated by Keira Zhang, 11 (Los Altos, CA)

Alora sighed and twirled her mocha-colored curls through her fingers. She glanced at the large wall clock in front of her, hanging above the door to the grand office in which she sat. Half past eleven, it read.

Her heart lurched inside her. Had it really been half an hour? Her stomach rolled over inside her and her vision grew spotty. Desperately, she grabbed the edge of the mahogany desk, its edge digging into her palm. She fought to remember the breathing techniques she’d been taught: 1, 2, inhale, 1, 2, 3, exhale. Slowly, Alora refocused and regained the sunny disposition she was supposed to have.




Stone Soup is published by Children’s Art Foundation-Stone Soup Inc., a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization registered
in the United States of America, EIN: 23-7317498.

Stone Soup's Advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.

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