Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cirque de Synchronicity

It's that time of year again: mud season in Maine and the circus is in town. In memory of my dad, William Hogan, a Shriner, I take my daughter and friends to the annual Kora Shrine Circus from Lewiston, Maine. It's the cheapest trick in town and remains entertaining after 7 years in a row. There's something nostalgic for me, wandering amongst the men in their burgundy blazers and fez, ever accomodating. I know I went to circuses as a kid, but not one of them stands out. Maybe that's why I'm drawn to them as an adult. I went to an early Cirque de Soleil show in San Francisco 20 years ago, back before it became unaffordable. I also tried the Pickle Family Circus there, part vaudeville, part acrobatic. But the Shriner Circus still feels home-townish, the way circuses began.

I even managed to turn a field trip to the circus into, yep, an illustration assignment! Why not? For three years, my Illustration 2 class of MECA sophomores would walk across the street to the Portland Civic Center, with sketchbooks under their arms and cellphone cameras ready to document all the glory of the ring. Circus themes have been well mined in all genres of art. I bring in Picasso, Chagall, books on old circus posters,and picture books galore. My students always seem to dig up lots of twisted circus freak stuff online. Besides getting reference firsthand at the Shriner's event, students develop a final illustration for a circus poster. It's a grand, splashy way to end the semester.

A 2006 piece by Tim Brewster shares some of the classic simplicity of this year's program, a bargain at $1 and full of local ads for businesses like the True Value in Mechanic Falls and Moon Recoveries (Towing and Recovery) in Auburn. Not a website among them.

Here's another favorite student poster, by Lyndsey Camelio, who went on to major in Graphic Design, class of '07.

It's the primary colors, the polka dots (I have a weakness for them; have you noticed?), and the big shoes! Just the kind of thing clowns like Bubba wear....who so kindly signed Daisy's Shriner program this year.

Last year, in a stroke of synchronicity, my favorite publisher, Charlesbridge, called me to illustrate a book jacket for Secrets of the Cirque Medrano, about Brigitte, a 16 year-old girl from Warsaw, orphaned and sent to Paris to work in her aunt's cafe. It's a new world for a confused girl, who longs for the freedom to go see the saltimbanques performing nearby. This time I worked with art director, Diane Early, and sank my teeth into research on Picasso's period of painting circus performers. Quelle joyeux! Picasso played a part in the book, as did a capuchin monkey named Toulouse.

In typical fashion, I gathered tons of material before sketching. So many ideas, so little time! I sent these sketches:

I saw this one being inside the tent, with a glimpse of the alleys of Montmarte outside.

Had to imply the secrets part here. I'm lousy with secrets. Don't tell me anything.

I tried to get Picasso onto the cover in this one, working from a book of photos by Jean Cocteau.

This one was my favorite, actually redrawn from a MECA poster sketch I did in my class. Art school resembles a circus more than you can ever know.

So, what do you think they picked? Got a favorite?

I was in Paris once, during my senior year at RISD, and got pickpocketed on the train in Montmartre. C'est la vie.
If by chance you should miss Paris, check out Paris Daily Photo. Bonjour, Eric! You are the random blog I discovered and fell in love with when I signed on with Blogger.

Done deciding? They picked #6, and I did a few more sketches to get Paco in the foreground, and the author's name onto a sign in the manner of Lautrec.

I kinda got really into Paco, the young saltimbanque that Brigitte has a thing for.
I LOVE the whole harlequin/ Pierrot thang. During that stay in Paris, I lost my passport. Well, maybe...I realized it was gone when it was time to debark the train from Amsterdam. That teller who changed money for me...YOU KEPT IT. My travel mate and I, lacking a way to get more money, found ourselves calling my mother's friend-from-churches-daughter, you know, that phone number pushed on you by an anxious parent at the airport. We slept in their living room on cots, and I fell asleep pondering a reproduction on the wall by Watteau, of guess who? Pierrot.

So here is a crop of my final pastel. Toulouse didn't fit onto the cover, but waits for you in the doorway on the back flap.

And here is the cover:

This book is out NOW. Happy reading!

To prove that life is truly a big fat polka dot, working in circles of connections, I received a calendar last week from my friend from kindergarten, Maureen Clark, of Clark's Trained Bears fame. I consulted her last year to find out what breed of monkey would be trained, like the one in Secrets of the Cirque Medrano. She knows all about trainers and circus folk, having grown up with that breed of talent. Why, she raised cubs in her backyard. She let me hold one, providing a towel for buffer.

She sent along a gem production from none other than Graphique de France of a collection of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey vintage circus posters, which included this favorite:

Watching my childhood friend in the ring with enormous bears is something that brings an incredibly deep satisfaction.
If you want to read a fantastic book on this kind of animal bonding, check out The Final Confession of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough. The greatest female tiger trainer is brought to vivid, hair-raising life in this incredible novel.

I brought it along on our recent swing down to Boston, where we managed to take in our second circus in a single week.
The Big Apple Circus is not as old as the Shriner's, but way more splashy and
fast-paced, not to mention expensive. It was well worth it; the costuming alone will spark a ton of sketching (to come) and the
gold-painted, slow-mo acrobats blew me away. The finale of tumblers and leaping girls had me short of breath.

Now I just have to wait for Circus Smirkus to come to Freeport this summer.
And start training the dog to juggle tennis balls...

Bim, BEM, Bum: Bergey!

About four years ago I met Joshua Bergey, who told me he was working on a book about his illustrator grandfather, Earle K. Bergey. I honestly couldn't conjur up an image of his work at the time. Recently, I assigned a project to my illustration class to draw the future. This prompted bringing in some books, Infinite Worlds by Vincent di Fate and Science Fiction of the 20th Century, an Illustrated History by Frank M. Robinson, both borrowed from my neighbor/illustrator, Doug Smith. Doug is both a fan and collector of pulp fiction art and science fiction illustration. Earle Bergey's work is heavily represented in both these books, being a master of many genres, working for mainstream magazines as well as science fiction magazines and pin-ups. I asked Joshua to speak to my students which he very generously did last week.

Earle K. Bergey was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1901 and attended the Academy of Fine Arts there. He began illustrating in 1926 for local newspapers, comics, magazines, and into the 40's for the expanding paperback book market. He became famous for "Bim, BEM, and Bum," for typically featuring a scantily clad woman (bimbo?) in the clutch of a Bug Eyed Monster, with some heroic bum coming to the rescue. Joshua never met his grandfather, but his own artistic career prompted a keen interest in his grandfather's creative life. Earle Bergey died at only 51, leaving behind a scattered and devalued body of work. Joshua has devoted his time to searching and reclaiming ownership of the large cache of now highly collectible art.

He showed a painting that was not used for the final bookcover, a great inside peek for students at the fickle world of publishing, one in which illustrations may go through many variations to meet the demands of the client, producing quite magnificent yet unpublished pieces.

This piece graces Joshua's mantel, a testament to Earle Bergey's finesse with smooth skin tones and theatrical handposes.

Many of the works Joshua has found have required major rehabilitation and restoration. Back in the day, these were considered disposable or not worthy of careful storage. Joshua has met former models in his quest for stories and art related to his grandfather.

Students were curious about how much Bergey got paid for his paintings (about $200) and how quickly he did them.
Joshua guessed that a typical oil painting may have taken about two weeks. Given his prolific output, they may have been done within a week. With the imagination, versatility, and sex appeal of his work, Earle Bergey made his mark on the times. Joshua has found numerous examples of his grandfather's stylish innovations in modern film and design genres.

Here Joshua shows the small painting done as a rough for the larger painting that became the bookcover on the right.

Thanks to Joshua for sharing his family stories, artistic legacy, and original collection of Earle Bergey's paintings. It was an informative and visually delicious slice of illustration history. Bergey's art is iconic of a culture on the brink of modernism.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Long live Lupine Land

YES!!! I am pinching myself still. Rickshaw Girl was chosen as the 2007 Lupine Honor Winner in the Juvenile/Young Adult category. The Lupine Awards have been presented annually since 1989 by the Youth Services Section of the Maine Library Association. Beloved author/artist Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius was the inspiration for the Lupine Award.

The awards were presented at the annual Reading Round-Up conference held at the Augusta Civic Center on April 17. Things got off to a swell start, with energetic assistance from my Lupine Committee host, Amy Hand, from the Camden Public Library.
Committee Chair, Jan Hamilton, of Prince Memorial Library made the announcements. I was gasping for breath when my turn came to speak. I did remember to thank Charlesbridge Publishing for the pairing of Mitali Perkins, a girl from India, and me, from New Hampshire.

A major thrill was being in the company of Kevin Hawkes, a former island neighbor. I also remembered to mention being mentored by Anne Sibley O'Brien and Scott Nash, other award- winning illustrator/authors also living on the island. But bottom line: Maine is a way cool place, as author Alan Madison discovered. He made the trek from NYC to collect his award in the picture book category for Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly. illustrated by Kevin.

I also got to gush over Sarah Thomson who wrote the wonderful Dragon's Egg, one of our family's favorite chapter books.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Pat Feehan, of University of South Carolina's School of Library and Information Science, gave a rousing talk. WAKE UP PEOPLE she began. Too many kids (and some of us) are fake readers, in that we read it, but we don't get it. She used Daniel Pink's A Whole New MInd
as a jumping off point about moving into a conceptual age. We need to be Big Picture Thinkers. Yeah, right on, I'm thinking as I sketched her donning a Viking helmet to make a visual point.

Leave it to the intrepid librarians to give this book a good nudge onto the shelves in Maine. A hearty and huge thank you to the Lupine Committee for choosing Rickshaw Girl. I am blessed!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Look out for the skibbis!

I found this handy note from my daughter in my suitcase just after arriving at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Nashua, NH. I call it Skibby for short; leave it to an 11-year-old to manifest a mascot. I was there primarily to worship: so many great writers and illustrators in a single place all devoted to the celebration of craft and story for young readers.

My hotelmate, Kirsten Cappy, graciously introduced me to new folks during the Friday evening cabaret. My island neighbor, Annie O'Brien was a hit in the off-off-Broadway parody called the Seven Deadly Sins, alongside the vixen/editor, Yolanda Le Roy, from Charlesbridge Publishing, and David Hyde Costello, author/illustrator/hearththrob. The wake-up call came way too soon Saturday morning.

Laurie Halse Anderson gave an inspired address peppered with quotes from Picasso, such as "Success is dangerous" and "Never put off til tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."
She challenged the audience to grant ourselves permission to make art, to write in a dedicated space. I have all that, it's the time piece that's the biggest challenge.

Next up for me was Mitali Perkin's workshop on pajama promotions. She thinks I'm generous; she gives her wisdom away! There is an abundance about her that is refreshing in a competitive world. I had to sketch her:

I just finished First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and realized she perhaps learned all about the blogosphere as research for that story. I vowed to get more with it.

Later, I snuck in to the second half of Melissa Sweet's workshop on adding emotion to your picture book. I've been a correspondent with Melissa for years; we both enjoy a good old-fashioned envelope in the snail mail, cheerfully decorated with stickers, choice stamps, and loopy hand lettering. She brings a colorful serendipity to everything she does. Sigh.

We were led through a typical illustrator's exercise: drawing a letter three ways: as a gesture, as a 3-dimensional object, and then as color. After we watched a brief youtube spot of the Ramones singing Sheena is a punkrocker, Melissa challenged us to draw the letter as a punkrocker. Here's mine.

Melissa's latest book, Tupelo Rides the Rails, is a gem. Especially if you love dogs, wishing on a star, and lonely train whistles.

Kevin Hawkes wrapped the afternoon up with his magical cast of eccentricities
and sweet anecdotes of his formative years as a member of the "treefort generation." With numerous moves in a military family, the libraries of Europe became a stable home, where Kevin could revisit the friends he'd read before.
It's backstories like this that make an event worthwhile. Kevin is another former island neighbor (did I already mention there are artists under every rock here?) and each encounter with him is a learning moment.

Following Kevin's address, the awards were announced for the poster contest. Nope, I didn't win.

But I wasn't at all dismayed because the winner's was gorgeous and deserving. Congratulations, Kelly Light!

I hung out in the Speakeasy for awhile with a couple of illustrators, Casey Girard and Andy J. Smith, and a hot new writer, Kat Black. Plenty to discuss comparing notes on the workshops and the ratrace known as publishing. Later, I located my pal, Kirsten, at where else...her favorite Indian restaurant that makes a stop in Nashua so very delicious.

Yes, the food is excellent, but I imbibe the atmosphere as well. The art and ambiance take me to another place.

I also got to meet two more illustrators, Teri Weidner and Robert Squier.

It was a loooong day but we all departed energized by the whole skibby shebang.
Note to self: drag out that picture book dummy and rework it while the inspiration is still fresh!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rickshaw in the rain

No amount of rain or dreary chill could dampen my excitement when the day finally came for my Brown Bag lecture at the Portland Public Library with Mitali Perkins. She gave an energetic and moving talk to the crowd of (mostly) young readers from three middle schools and several students from Deering High. I keep learning new things about Mitali's source of stories, her heritage, and her strong connection to her audience. She's one hard act to follow.

The big question: how does a girl from New Hampshire illustrate a book set in Bangladesh? Well, it takes research and good drawing, but also a connection with the story. Mitali's writing touches all the senses. I was immersing myself in visual reference provided by the art director, Susan Sherman, and also getting my daughter and her friend to pose for me, plus listening to the Bend it Like Beckham soundtrack! But more than anything, I related to the lead character, Naima. Being a daughter and having a daughter got me deeply into the heart of the book, where artistic skills, resourcefulness, and love cross cultural boundaries.

I'm always curious about process so I showed some of the rough sketches done for the cover.

After the talk and signing, fellow author/illustrator/islander Annie O'Brien
joined MItali, Kirsten Cappy and I for a long and relaxing lunch. Here they are, three muses with generous wisdom in the infinite realm of children's literature.

Kirsten Cappy, Mitali Perkins, and Annie O'Brien at David's in Portland, Maine

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Art fuels my fires

Say what you want about a never-ending winter, life here has been pretty colorful. I attended the recent Celesoiree at the Portland Company one slushy Friday night. Having donated a piece of art, I scored a comp ticket and checked out this lively ILAP fundraiser to benefit Maine's immigrant communities. Great food, African drumming and dance, and wonderful lighting by Pandora LaCasse made the whole place jump. As silent art auctions go (and I've done my share) this one was spacious, well-lit, and displayed quite a diversity of local art, with my fellow Peaks Islanders showing well.

I wanted to join this dance, but I was too chicken!

The one drawback to these things is that you can't help but hover near your piece to spy on someone who might make a bid.

This is my "cosmic coronation"..and I wonder who made the winning bid. I left like a geeky Cinderella to catch an early boat
back home, before very many bids were made on anything. I heard it got hot after I left. Story of my life!

Speaking of fairy tales, there are a number of fairy tale adaptations around MECA these days. Jess Shea, graduating senior in illustration, has a piece from her graphic novel version of Alice in Wonderland at the ICA's BFA thesis show. According to Michelle Ollie, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, the graphic novel market has exploded, going from 10 million to 300 million in sales in the last five years. Michelle visited the illustration department recently to tout the CCS program and share provocative advice like: Be a stripper. She's referring to web strips, the new channel of distribution for comics. She urged the students to get their work OUT THERE, build an audience, and then the publishers will come to you.

She knows what she's talking about: Michelle is an award-winning designer with an MBA, quick to assess the asset management of creative content providers. She did this meeting students individually, encouraging them to hone their many skills in drawing, writing, design, layout, typography, software, math, sequencing, storytelling, and good humor.

Dani Evans, junior, decided to act. She set up an esty account and a web strip, all in the same week! She has this thing about bunnies.

Moral of today's fairy tale: Don't leave the party too soon!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Brevity is the new Black

Lately I've been noticing more frequent evidence of our sound-bite society. Media methods of grabbing our attention have now become routine in so many other ways. Just recently, I bought the six word memoir book, Not what I was planning, as a gift for Marty. I highly recommend trying to write your own six word memoir. It's an excellent exercise. It prompted me to write several on a recent gray Sunday morning with houseguests.

Not that I need prompting, of course. I get exquisite prompts in my Sudden Fiction class, a Portland Adult Ed offering on Peaks.
Eleanor Morse, recent winner of the Maine Literary Award for An Unexpected Forest, taught the most gentle and encouraging class. A group of us met on Thursday evenings for good reason: the opportunity to let the words flow for an hour, and then hear what others wrote. Eleanor's whole approach completely redefined teaching for me. She would introduce the weekly prompt, usually a word or related phrases, ring the bell and say begin! It was exhilarating to walk in unpremeditated, no homework, and write from the hip.
I thought I'd be chewing the ends of my pencils, but in fact, I was able to write non-stop. For an hour. I discovered I had something to tap. After the hour was up (another ding of the bell) the delicious dessert was served: each person would read what they wrote, including Eleanor, who would always weave in some amazing slice of her current novel-in-progress, blowing the rest of us completely out of the water.

We met at Eleanor's house down the street for the final class. After a potluck dinner, we took turns reading one piece we had written during class, polished or tweaked outside of class.
Here is Stephanie Eliot reading her sudden fiction piece.

She's quite the actress. In fact, she IS an actress. We saw her in two plays as part of the Maine Short Play Festival presented at the St. Lawrence Art Center. The series of six short plays by local playwrights was riddled with Peaks Islanders. Michael Levine, co-founder of Acorn, and Julie Goell each directed several, and Stephanie Eliot and George Rosol were actors. What else could get loyal Peaks culture vultures out on a bitter evening?

Stephanie played multiple parts in Bailey's Mistake by Gerald George. Here's our view from the last row; the house was packed.

Short and succinct can be sweet. There's my six word memoir for the day.