Doodle duty: Picture book author Nancy Carlson selling original art for a good cause


Fans of award-winning picture book writer and illustrator Nancy Carlson will have a chance to purchase one of her original doodles, and part of the proceeds will go to a cause that is close the the Minnesota author's heart.

Five years ago, Carlson, an MCAD graduate and the author of 66 picture books, began her Doodle-A-Day project, posting an original drawing on her website and Facebook page. Every morning she scans one of her whimsical sketches – carrots with faces, animals taking swimming lessons, children catching butterflies – as her upbeat hello to the world.

Shortly after beginning the posts, Carlson's personal and financial life began to unravel. As explained in the Star Tribune, Carlson and her husband Barry McCool began experiencing the first signs of strife in their long marriage. The man Carlson described as mild-mannered and orderly began exhibiting personality changes.

It took years before she learned that McCool was suffering from Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD), a form of progressive early-onset dementia that is often misdiagnosed and is marked by profound behavioral changes. In the meantime, McCool, who had managed his wife's publishing career, made an utter mess of their finances. By the time he was ultimately diagnosed, the couple, who have three adult children, had sold off their possessions, were in trouble with the IRS and had gone into bankruptcy.

McCool is now in hospice care.

Although she admitted that her situation is painful and embarrassing, Carlson is willing to speak out in an effort to warn others about FTD, which affects the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving, personality and common sense. Her blog, Putting One Foot in Front of the Other: Barry's Journey, has chronicled their story in unsparing detail.

“I want to talk about this so people can catch it before their loved one destroys their life, like Barry did,” Carlson told the Star Tribune. “If I had only known, I could have stepped in so much sooner and could have saved us this awfulness.”

Through it all, Carlson kept doodling and posting her work.

"Everybody has something that helps them get through the tough stuff," she told BringMeTheNews. "As long as I can draw, I can keep going. It makes me feel good."

Hundreds of Carlson's original doodles will go on display at the Gallery 122/Hang It in northeast Minneapolis on Friday night, Dec. 5. The hand-drawn sketches, which are all 5x7, will be sold for $75 each, with 20 percent of the proceeds donated to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.

Carlson will be at the gallery at 122 8th St. SE in Minneapolis from 7-9 p.m. Friday to sign her doodles and her latest picture book, "Sometimes You Barf." There is a livestream of the gallery.

Carlson's show and doodle sales will continue at the gallery through January 31. With stacks of more than 1,000 doodles, Carlson plans to hang new work as her art on display is purchased.

While most of the doodles reflect the cheery charm that two generations of her young readers are familiar with, there are also sketches that show Carlson's deepening fear, frustration and sorrow.

She also includes a series of poignant sketches of her husband. In one, the top of his head morphs into a boat.

"That's Barry," she said. "He's just sailing away."

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