Tuesday, December 16, 2008

elemental nature

I've been working on a pile of preliminaries for a poetry book about animals and their habitats, the kind of assignment that has me making keener observations of my own habitat. My dog gets me outside even on those icy days, always with my wee camera in a parka pocket. The ice here looked like brush marks.

And this one looked like an ice head, crowned by moss.

This barn felt like a Bauhaus exercise in 2D design.

And look, a figure drawing in the woods.

Some findings are a bit mysterious, like offerings to animal spirits.

And others are downright inflated signs of the season.

All these sights feed my creative urges once I'm back in the studio. No wonder deer, who have been showing up in the yard at night, are making an appearance in this year's holiday card.

This fawn is curled up in a couple of illustrations, including the card.

With Christmas and Chanukah only days away, I am finally ready to walk this path of winter, psychically and physically.

It is time, too, to string the lights, embrace the darkest nights, and send prayers out to the universe for all the angels to hear.

Happy Solstice!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

fuzzy thoughts

Sitting by a crackling fire after an ice storm is a true luxury. Another is knowing a fine artist like Russell French, whose show of photographs at Rabelais is a stellar example of the richness of Maine's rural traditions. Russ was party to a pair of sheep round-ups, in the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008, that took place on an unnamed island. With indelible shots, Russ documented this venture, in league with Sam Hayward, renowned chef/owner of Fore Street in Portland. Their efforts led to an article in The Art of Eating, and paid homage to the hard working Maine farmer, notably the Straw Family Farm. Go see the show; it hangs in the midst of a serene shop devoted to books on food, wine, and the arts. One sees in these photographs a reverence for the Maine environment, the hearty folks who work in it, and for sheep, those strange creatures with benign expression and ageless demeanor.

I would have loved to have been there, drawing sheep. I remember being on a school field trip to Long Island once, and a sheep showed up outside the entrance, as we gathered the children for the walk back to the ferry. Sheep are implacable animals, not easy to know. I had an opportunity to draw sheep for a book about knitting, "Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off".

How did they get their reputation for being ninnys? Their flock nature?

I drew numerous animals, all sources of fiber fun.

In this case, too much fun. This drawing was about the knitting "bomb", that effort that just never comes out right.

This one didn't get used. Too negative. Huh? I think it's a riot. Don't you?

This one made it. Something about the happy knitter, the type that doesn't let patterns or purls keep her from having a good time.

Since I don't knit, all I can do is put another log on the fire, and be grateful for talented friends, farmers, and sheep with fuzzy thoughts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

meca lekka high

meca hiny ho!

Does anybody remember Giambi, from Pee Wee's playhouse? Whenever I get raving (often ranting) about Maine College of Art, my significant other chimes in with that catchy spell from that blue-faced, turbaned genie.

Classes are over, whew. What a whirlwind semester it was. I had the largest class I've ever had, and was hustling to get to everybody. Some really great work came out of it, although there were classes that left me feeling completely defeated and ready to crawl into the nearest hole. You'd think that being in art school would be a fabulous picnic, spinning newness out of your fingers, but often it is a knarly ball of frayed egos, deviant self-doubt, financial stress, relational aggression, uh, what else? Oh, yeah, institutional dysfunction and fried faculty. On the upside, it is a colorful hive of unexpected beauty, a constant cross-pollination of talent and promise to see the world in a new way. My students think when I hand out an assignment that they are supposed to do a certain thing, when in fact I am DYING to be surprised. Some of them ask permission to do what they want, and others just go ahead and do it. Bravo.

One day I brought in sumi ink and brushes and a huge roll of paper. They were working on illustrating an endangered animal. It was a happy chance to draw big, and freely. Too often illustration is a belabored beast. Here they could just let their brushes dance.

This is the result. It's about 3 feet by 8 feet.

And another upside: my colleagues. MECA faculty are the hardest-working drones in the art education business. Truly! This shows the dotty simpatico shared with fellow adjunct, Mary Anne Lloyd.

Along with intrepid department chair, Alex Rheault, we brought the senior illustration students to the Amy Curtis exhibit at Bowdoin. It was a much-needed out-of-classroom experience for everybody, and I got to ride with four former students, yay!

Ninjas unite!

Students often go through periods of slump, crisis, enlightenment. It's all out there in the BFA exhibit, hanging in every nook and cranny. This is Megan's Music Box Girl, part of a project in a Surrealism and Accidents class. It's a departure from the traditional 2D nature of illustration, but it begs many of the same questions of narrative and meaning.

Another example of performance/installation work intrigued me, mainly the animal masks, as my illustration 1 class was in the midst of their animal pieces when I spotted this.

My students were drawing each other wearing masks. All part of inventing personas, questioning the self and one's hidden nature.

And I am always intrigued by anything involving umbrellas. Are they not a surreal device, symbol of magical transport, a buffer from weather, tears, pain?

On the whimsical side, somebody else has a thing for umbrellas. I just LOVE these little tropical urchins climbing up the stairwell in Porteous.

Watch out, they are poisonous. Especially if you find one next to several empty rum drinks. The tactile factor was very present in this year's show. I loved this piece by former student, Val Couch. She had knit and woven patriotic colors into large paintings and these hung alongside, like cozy keepers of an American psyche.

And who doesn't love a fuzzy yeti? This creature was featured in Dani Evan's display.

This was one piece of many of the works of former students that I used to inspire my current class. They worked developing and fabricating a 3D character in their final project. The last one has to be fun, or everybody just flames out.

Here Oliver Percival created a cast efficiently made with magnets, so each head can be easily interchanged. Mulitple personalities! How very handy.

Stay tuned for the release of the Illustration One Demon/Deity Deluxe Trading Cards.
There will be something for everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

many voices

The Many Voices Multicultural Bookfair on November 22 was a blast of color, children, art, laughter: something for all the senses, including the intoxicating aroma of dumplings. Sponsored by CAFAM, the Chinese American Friendship Association of Maine, this event brings together a mindboggling array of books from cultures around the world, and many perspectives right here. Breakwater School houses the Saturday morning Chinese School, recently featured in a beautiful piece in Port City Life Magazine.
The crowd was full of energetic kids running amongst various activities like face painting, origami, and balloon animals. I was to sign copies of Rickshaw Girl so I brought along some art supplies to draw and invite others to draw with me.

The children were pretty irresistible.
Caught this girl on the fly with her balloon.

I started to draw a little girl getting her face painted, directly opposite my table.
The girl drawing at my table wanted me to draw HER. One thing led to another, and I found myself drawing quickie portraits of several children, mostly those concentrating on their own drawings right in front of me. I like to draw people, but the pressure was intense. I came away with a wonderful exchange of drawings, though.
Many voices, indeed!

Thank you!!!

Right beside me, the award-winning author/illustrator Cathryn Falwell was folding origami and tasting the dumplings, which were divine. I gobbled some myself and kept drawing.

We both took time to browse the books, a slice of diversity not usually seen in one place, thanks to Curious City and the sage talents of Kirsten Cappy. It was hard choosing just a few. So many amazing titles.

I was tickled to receive a gorgeous book bag, courtesy of CAFAM, with the stunning art of Betsy Thompson.

This is an event that shows color in all its glory. Hooray for Many Voices!

Friday, November 21, 2008

alpanas and henna

Jan Hamilton, Youth Services Librarian at Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland, and Lupine Committee Chair, invited me to speak this past week about Rickshaw Girl and draw alpanas in combination with a henna demonstration by Genevieve Levin. What an inspired combined program. Henna designs are commonly found in Indian culture, particularly around weddings and special occassions, applied as a paste to the skin. The designs bear a resemblance to alpanas, the ephemeral decorations created by Bangla women with rice paste, and applied to walls and entrances of dwellings. Both employ similar floral and paisley motifs.
I find the concurrence of design similarities and impulses among different cultures completely fascinating. I came across an academic discourse while teaching a 2D design class years ago. In "Symmetries of Culture" authors Dorothy Washburn and Donald Crowe examine the use of style to decifer information codes or ethnic identity markers, a mission of both anthropologists and art historians:

Style is not a theoretical concept like evolution or gravity. Design is a multifaceted phenomenon which can be subject to a number of different categorizations. The problem of why people do things similarly is pervasive, profound, and not trivial.

So in the spirit of exchange and interaction, a group of girls and women explored pattern-making from another culture, making it their own, in this very sweet library setting.

Nev gave a brief talk about the history of henna and it's characteristics. Girls signed up for applications and I gave a quick slideshow on the backstory of Rickshaw Girl, including my formative work, sketches, references, all the unpublished elements that contribute to a book. I included this recent unprompted doodle by my daughter that seemed relevant.

It could be an alpana, or a Pennsylvania dutch motif. Radial symmetry, either way.

I brought colored paper, pastel pencils, and an open mind. The group was small, so I could just hang out with half a dozen girls, drawing and waiting their turn for henna.

Sarah drew an alpana, quite naturally.

And I drew her:

Another young artist, Hannah, captured amazing detail in her drawing of an Indian girl.

Olivia asked, "How do I become an artist?" I said, "Draw all the time. Study art, and persevere!" She's already there, posting her drawings online. I drew her as she watched the henna happening.

She obeyed the instructions: don't smudge the henna paste. And returned to drawing, with her left hand! That's perseverance.

Nev has a steady hand and exquisite ability, even with girls clamoring around the table.

She did a design for me, once the girls departed. Thankyou, Remarkable Blackbird!!!

I am delighted to be part of this cultural exchange of custom, beauty, and story. Anything that broadens a child's sense of the world, in a hands on way, is worth every minute. I'm grateful for the intrepid librarians that bring these programs to life.

Thanks, Jan!

Tomorrow I'll be drawing alpanas, and kids, at Many Voices, the multicultural book fair at Breakwater School:

A Multicultural Book Fair
For Families & Educators

Saturday, Nov. 22
10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Breakwater School Gym
865 Brighton Ave., Portland

Come shop for children’s books depicting the cultures of China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, as well as African American, Native American, Latino American, Jewish American,
Muslim American and immigration books.

AND meet author / Illustrators Cathryn Falwell and me, fold Japanese origami, draw Bengali alpanas, munch on Chinese dumplings, and OH SO MUCH MORE.

It's all good!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

lucky leafy

I began working on a new project for Charlesbridge a few weeks ago. I broke the ice by drawing a pine cone found in the Presidio two summers ago, during a trip to San Franscisco. I can still smell the eucalyptus.....

Then I worked it into a leafy sorta self-portrait.

My favorite month may be over, but I love the melancholy nature of November. Even getting soaked in yesterday's rain couldn't bring me down.

And there's always something at MECA that makes my day. Here is a cheerful installation in the Joanne Waxman Library. Gotta find out who did this. There were masses of these in unexpected places.

Good news: it was clear and sunny for the illo 2 drawing safari at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway! Three models posed in period costume inside and outside the trains for a little life drawing to coincide with the current assignment: portrait in another time and place.

I'm a believer in drawing from life. Not necessarily in a realistic manner, but as visual essay, distilling the environment, impressions, memories, and projections. I didn't get to draw, too busy running between groups to gauge the restlessness of the models/students. There's a wide range in abilities and ambitions yet the class came up with some interesting sketches. Not easy to capture it all in 15 minute poses, but such situations build agility. Draw faster! Get looser!

Ninjas in training:

After class, I met Paola and her sister and was tickled to receive more birthday loot!
She has a gift for wrapping things with such care and color, one needn't open the package to feel special. She brought along her sweet sister, too. The day got even better with more treat mail.

from Kathy in CA, another divine present:

and from Sarah, a former student, her new whimsical stationary!

I love to see students take flight. And love the birdy fellowship in her drawings.
go, Sarah!

The rain outside my studio allowed me to get a lot done. Drawing habitats......

Thanks to Paola, Kathy, and Sarah!