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Shaped from clay

Posted: August 18th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Features, Top Stories | No Comments

By Margie M. Palmer

3-D artist sculpts unique images for children’s book project

A truly unique children’s book, “Lily Pond,” was launched on Kickstarter by Patrick Henry High School alumni Shelley Daniels Lekven.

Landscapes like this Arabian scene are part of the artwork created by clay sculptor Shelley Daniels Lekven for her children’s book ‘Lily Pond.’ (Photo courtesy Shelley Daniels Lekven)

Shortly before graduating with a degree in psychology from UCLA, Lekven was inspired to write a poem that follows the vivid imagination of a little frog, Lily Pond, as she daydreams about her future.

“The book is about a girl frog that is lying in bed one night and she’s thinking of all the things she could be when she grows up. I tried to make it so if a child didn’t plan to get married, or marry someone of the opposite gender, it would be OK,” she said.

Shelley Daniels Lekven (Photo courtesy Shelley Daniels Lekven)

“One of the lines in the book reads ‘Who might I marry and where are they now, I hope they are happy and laugh out loud.’ I didn’t make it a ‘he.’ At the end, Lily decides she’s tired and thinks it can wait. She is still happy to be a child.”

Lekven then decided the poem would be fun to illustrate in clay for a children’s book — so she set her diploma aside and honed her sculpting skills.

What began as a hobby morphed into a full-fledged career; her work as a 3-D artist in San Diego, New York and Los Angeles led to opportunities to work as a character sculptor on movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas” and Toy Story,” and as sculpting supervisor on “James and the Giant Peach.

“I started playing with clay at the age of 6 when my siblings and I founded a clay town on the dining room table with some old balls of modeling clay. Our parents, remarkably, let it stay,” she said.

The scene, which she and her siblings later named Claytown, thrived and grew to become the centerpiece of their childhoods for the next 10 years.

Lekven making Claytown as a young girl (Photo courtesy Shelley Daniels Lekven)

The careers of both Lekven and her brother, David, sprang directly from Claytown, she said.

While in their teens, she helped David create an award-winning clay-animated movie about a duchy of frogs, which launched his career in animation; Lekven said since she already had experience working with frogs, incorporating that experience into Lily Pond was a natural fit.

“They were easier to dress than a human,” she said. “I chose frogs for the book because that’s what I knew how to do.”

A clay Space Frog character (Photo courtesy Shelley Daniels Lekven)

But that’s not to suggest that the completion of the “Lily Pond” sculptures was quick.

The last scene for “Lily Pond” was finished and photographed while Lekven was working on “James and the Giant Peach.” The 23 illustrations in the book had taken 15 years to complete.

The book cover for ‘Lily Pond’ (Photo courtesy Shelley Daniels Lekven)

When Lekven met her husband, she left show business to raise a family. Another 15 years passed before she returned to “Lily Pond” and started gradually Photoshopping the illustrations to perfection.

From start to finish, “Lily Pond” took 38 years to complete.

“I never considered quitting,” she said. “It’s been a labor of love and now I have the joy of introducing Lily to the world. I believe that if people see it that they will love it. I think it will do well at Comic-Con and I’d love for it to be in book stores and libraries.”

Lekven’s Kickstarter campaign was launched on July 21 with a target goal of $15,000. The current campaign, which will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Aug. 22, currently has $3,240 pledged.

Lekven said that while she was hopeful the book would receive a “Projects We Love” backing from the crowd-funding platform, the current campaign failed to get the rating; without that rating, she said, Lily Pond has gotten lost amidst the sea of other children’s books.

If the project is not funded through the first campaign, Lekven said she’ll try again.

“It feels really good to have the book completed,” she said. “I had to do it, there was no one else to finish it,” she said. “A lot of my friends say they look back at their lives and say they feel they didn’t accomplish what they could have. I’ve never had that feeling. I did the movies, I did the book and I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.”

—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writers who has been racking up bylines for over a decade. Reach her at mmpst19@gmail.com.

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