Thursday, May 29, 2008

Calling all Boneheads

Last Saturday we were delighted to join Melissa Sweet in celebrating the recent publication of her new picture book, Tupelo Rides the Rails. East End Beach in Portland was the panoramic location, and also the site of the Narrow Gauge Railway...perfect for combining dog romps and voyages like the one in the book.

It brought out loyal fans and dog-lovers, adoptable dogs, a hobo, and these vixenish Boneheads, Mary Anne Lloyd and Kirsten Cappy.

Daisy and her plush dog, Peggy, along with Nirmala and her plush dog, Brownie, pose with author/illustrator Melissa Sweet.

Melissa's art and story manage to pull together a cast of dog characters, their longing for homes, the heavenly constellations, and a train that comes full circle. Sweet! And with that she plugs the shelters that labor to find homes for the dogs that long for them.

Of course, she has help. Her canine sidekicks, Rufus and Nellie, provide support and inspiration as only dogs can.

Rufus has the smile of a famous dog, last immortalized in Melissa's recent award winner, Carmine.

There were even leashes for those pretend pets of our imagination. Here Marty looks the other way as his dog does some business.

This really reminded me of a favorite book by Peter Sis, Madelenka, about a girl who can't get a dog but walks an imaginary one around her neighborhood, prompting everyone she meets to envision her invisible dog as their childhood dog.

Does anybody remember a magazine called WIGWAG? Paul Davis was the art director; they used lots of glorious illustration and I still have my collection of issues, from October 1989 to December 1990. It was a short-lived but enduring publication with one feature I will never forget: the back page map. The editors had invited people to send in a map of their life. One map was by Ben Grossblatt of the dogs of Westhampton, MA. The key included the names of the dogs in his neighborhood, many of them made up. Like Choke and Thorazine. It remains one of my favorite notions: orienteering according to dogs. Just this evening, my dog and I walked past Bing's house and got the new dogs barking at Lisa's. How many of us know dogs as landmarks in our day? In our life?

My first dog was Ginger, a purebred beagle that lived outside in a doghouse behind the Red Doors Motel in Lincoln, NH where I grew up. Her barking for attention didn't go over well with the customers and my parents loaned her to a rabbit hunter for training.
She got "lost" in the woods, they said.

I've always been keen on smooth-haired dogs, with black and white and a spot of brown. My next dog was Maggie, found at a shelter in San Mateo, CA. She was sweet and mellow and howled when a siren sounded in the neighborhood. Pretty often, in our Outer Mission locale in San Francisco. She moved to Maine with us and got frisky in the snow.

Mary Anne Lloyd sent this painting to us after Maggie died.

In the meantime, we had a baby and absolutely no desire for another dog. But dogs played on my mind and heart just the same.

Even Marty had a familiar dog face in an illustration about a "dogwhisperer."

Of course, the baby became a toddler that, like Madelenka, kept asking for a dog! We said no until along came an island puppy that seemed to be the spitting image of Maggie. Who could resist? (Well, Marty could, but he was outnumbered.)

Daisy did this of Posie.

Posie is black and white and cute all over. She has a shrill bark, though, and is not good in crowds. Part border collie and terrier, her favorite sport is finding snakes in the yard. We've had some awesome walks when the sunset spills like lava over the tidepools.

She has made one really good friend. Sadie. They are like Mutt and Jeff together: Sadie is mostly gray with some white, a tall sheephound who amiably tolerates Posie's bitchy manners.

We're overdue for a long walk with Sadie. Beach trips invariably involve stinky puddles and soggy seaweed. The treks through the woods pass deer scat and crows. The dogs find all manner of news while we orbit our terrain.

Cole Caswell, recent MFA graduate from MECA, took this idea of mapping by dog quite literally. He placed a GPS device on his dog to create "canine drawings" which graphically record the dog's path during a particular time span. This exploration of orbit, terrain, technology, and landscape engages a different perspective.

May all our dogs, boneheads here and beyond, inspire us to notice our orbits, made all the larger and sweeter with their knowing instincts.

If it smells bad, roll in it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Line and pigment

I've been enjoying a luxurious lull between projects this past week. I worked on a pair of pastels to add to the Gem Gallery's first group show. I love working with pure pigment. It's direct, a bit dusty, but seems to capture what I love about that luminous moment at twilight when the sky is reflected in the undulating paths of lowtide.

And I am swooning over all the tree blossoms! This pastel captures one of my favorite spots that overlooks Trefethen Beach.

After blowing the pastel dust off the drawing table, I snatched up my sketchbook to join the life drawing group on Friday morning. This group has ebbed and flowed over the years, with various artists drifting in and out. Jane Banquer remains the
organizing force, scheduling models and locations. Currently we meet in the home of Anne Whitman, whose house faces Portland Harbor. The view is panoramic, the atmosphere quite concentrated, as each of us scratches away at our markmaking.
I hadn't been in awhile, maybe a couple of months, so I always feel stiff for the first few poses.

The model has an intensity in his face that I needed to capture.

Invariably, as the poses get longer, the model gets more supine.

I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to draw with respected peers, in a home setting, with models we know as neighbors. It's a humbling practice, as any lapse reminds me of my flabby lines.
Draw more, not less!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

At a loss

Thanks to ties that bind bloggers, I have worked on a star to send to Jillian Curtis, who is collecting stars for a Holocaust Memorial in her yard.
One mother's act to educate her children about history, horrific persecution, and genocide. An act of remembrance.

A few summers ago, Faith York, island neighbor, songwriter, and musician, led the Peaks Island Chorale in a performance of Songs of Freedom. One piece was called I never saw another butterfly based on a poem written by Pavel Friedman, a child in the Terezin Concentration Camp in 1942. Faith asked my daughter to sing a solo with the adult chorale during this piece. We became familiar with it's haunting beauty. Art is an act of remembrance.

This drawing became the center of my star, which incorporates collaged text from the book, I never saw another butterfly, and glossy bits of butterfly wings from magazines.

Whenever my focus is on something, there is this uncanny radar that manifests relevant encounters. I recently visited the MFA thesis exhibition at the ICA Gallery at Maine College of Art where I interacted with an installation by Sandra Marianne Preston. In her project, "Whispered," she assembled a Holocaust Educational Kit, a collection of suitcases and photo albums that blend real objects and the fictional history of a teacher, Cassandra Wolf. Preston had posed as this teacher, carting around her kit of blocks, gum, photos, toys, and photo albums in an effort to ask questions of the viewer.
As I put on the white gloves for handling the authentic looking album, I realized it was part then, part now... yet convincing me of that intangible place between memory and fact.

The Holocaust itself is hard to fathom, yet every evidence of remembrance can instill tolerance, maybe hope. Maybe peace.

This is a piece I did years ago, about a war-torn child in Germany.

Children need to be shown peace, to remember the losses. Jillian Curtis earns my respect for bringing this lesson to her own backyard.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One Morning in Maine

These are the days I wish I could bottle. May is a favorite month for many reasons: On the island, it is still nippy. You'll need a fleece vest in the morning. It is the time before mosquitos and swarms of SUVs from other places. We have what is called a winter waterview, in that from the pantry door, I can see a slice of the ocean and guess the tides. I bring plenty of pockets and an open mind on the daily ventures to the shore that stretches from Trefethen Landing to City Point. These days my only witness (other than the dog and sometimes my daughter) is the hired mower working to get the waterfront properties ready for Memorial Day.

My walks have yielded plenty of ideas and manifested visions. Pastels, mosaics, conversations. Always a renewed sense of balance. And a few children's stories! The illustration below is from a book dummy in which I combined drawing, pastel and collage. I somehow started collecting china and sea glass shards, it's an automatic urge to scan for patterns. My collage aesthetic is triggered to scavenge and make do with the rewards.

Here is a typical haul from a week of beachcombing.

In Sea Glass Chronicles, C.S.Lambert calls it "the everyday lottery of tides, currents, and chance." That's a splendid way to begin the day, finding the rare blue china shard or a porcelain doll part. Mostly, the beach is a carpet of mussel shells and seaweed, with sharp bits of broken beer bottles, an occasional glove or stray snack wrapper.

My first naive effort at making a mosaic has held up pretty well.

Since then, I have made countless mosaics, always around a mirror, and sometimes in a fish shape. I should probably learn how to do it, but meanwhile, I get lost in the process of arranging, smearing grout, smoothing around the ragged edges of the accidental treasures offered up amidst the flotsam and jetsam.

This process of finding and assembling finds its way into my artwork. I don't really like to know where my sketch is going to wind up. The cutting up and rearranging of pieces is a very focused act, but a delicious diversion from the final piece. I am such a lucky girl!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mixed metaphors

I'm working on the cover of next year's Lunar Calendar which is both fun and daunting, since I have great freedom. My so-called personal work is always an amalgam of whatever is cluttering my drawing table/mind at the moment. With Rickshaw Girl bringing good news, I have been revisiting all the scads of reference material for that project that went unused. In short, I decided to do a Hindu goddess/chimera...part tiger and part queen, since I just finished reading about Mabel Stark, the famous female tiger trainer from the 20's. During a break, I opened up the local paper to a photo of a monastery in Myanmar. The Cyclone Nargis had made rubble all around this enormous shining, smiling statue of a goddess, maybe Buddhist, hard to tell. A woman, dwarfed by the statue, lay prone on the empty floor, praying. How else to cope with such devastation?

I returned to my drawing. It needs to be colorful and exuberant in the face of dark news. I'm going to play around with different backgrounds and layers of decoration. Stay tuned.

Today I made a card for my mum, Jeanne.

Happy Mother's Day, Mum!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sprouts at the GEM

Peaks Island's best little gallery in Maine has reopened. Marty and I designed this little ditty to announce the first group show of the season. The Gem Gallery is a collective of island artists, mostly year-round folks and a few newcomers. We are quite a bag of tricks, from Connor Flynn, a high schooler creating dazzling glass vases, to Victor Romanyshyn, a photographer of nature's divine details. The openings always bring out a festive crowd.

Carol Cartier and Diane Wiencke are the hangers of all shows: they are amazing artists and find just the right way to show off all the work.

The gallery is actually two rooms given up for art in the home of Kristen Chalmers, veteran islander and patron who answered the call when Gem founder, Jane Newkirk, needed gallery space. Jane swept in and got a loose posse of artists together back in 2003, no small feat. The Art Walk and Wanders began during the summers,
a roster of open studios scattered across the island. Still, island artists felt the need for a downfront location. Kristen, Jane, and a crew of volunteers turned part of the house next to the Post Office into a sweet little gallery. Jane Newkirk ventured off the island but left a strong yet still loose coalition of dedicated artists who meet once a month. We divvy up the duties of gallery-sitting, hanging, promotion, and maintenance. Kristen handles the finances and conducts the meetings, but otherwise defers to the collective vision.

Paul Brahms, painter extraordinaire, displayed two gems above resident feline, Leo.

Tim Nihoff always manages to surprise with his found object assemblages.

Here is my Urchin Experiment.

The gallery is open on Fridays from 4 - 6:30 PM and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 PM. The weather is just right for a ferry ride and the gallery is located a short (uphill) walk from the dock. Go straight up Welch Street past the Peaks Island Cafe, take a left at Downfront, and stop just short of the Post Office. Support local art; meet an island artist!

My daughter made this little sign the night of the opening, posted on a telephone pole near the entrance.

I'll be gallery sitting on May 18 from noon to 2:30. Come on by!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rickshaw Girl wins again

I am still glowing with the Lupine Honor and now comes another: the Jane Addams Honor Award for Rickshaw Girl!

From the Jane Addams Peace Association press release:

Three books have won honors in the Books for Older Children category.

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, with illustrations by Jamie Hogan and published by Charlesbridge, is a contemporary novel set in Bangladesh. In clear prose and detailed black-and-white drawings, ten-year-old Naimi excels at painting alpanas, traditional designs created by Bangladeshi women and girls. Her talent, though valued by her family, cannot buy rice or pay back the loan on her father’s rickshaw as a son’s contribution would do. Determined to help financially, Naimi disguises herself as a boy and sparks surprising events that reveal an expanding world for herself and women in her community.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., is a sensitively-written historical novel infused with the spirit of youth. Eleven-year-old Elijah bursts with pride at being the first child born free in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just across the border from Detroit. When a scoundrel steals money saved to buy an enslaved family’s freedom, Elijah impulsively pursues the thief into Michigan. The journey brings him face-to-face with the terrors of slavery, pushing him to act courageously and compassionately in the name of freedom.

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford is published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc. Deftly-written free verse and expertly-chosen archival photographs lay open the horror of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing by telling the story in the voice of an imagined girl in the “year I turned ten.” Four memorial poems, each a tribute to one of the four girls murdered in the bombing, conclude this slim, powerful volume and carry its emphatic message: No More Birminghams!

Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award annually acknowledges books published in the U.S. during the previous year. Books commended by the Award address themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literary and artistic excellence.

There will be an award ceremony in New York in October. I'm going!
Meanwhile, I better send out postcards with the news. Watch your mailbox.

Legal sketching

When was the last time you drew on a placemat in a restaurant? That was once a favorite pasttime of mine, back in the Crayola days. As an illustration teacher, I keep telling students to draw all the time, but do I?
Hardly. But my daughter, 11, is doing that. She adds a little drawing to the grocery list on the counter, to the cover of a catalog on the kitchen table, and draws on the edges of her homework. When we walked across the street from our Boston hotel recently, I brought along my sketchbook, not sure there would be paper placemats at Legal Seafood.

The wall murals had Dick Dale playing in my head as we passed the sketchbook back and forth. I was drawing the brisk servers with sleek profiles.

Daisy was drawing a sea fairy.

This is a classic example of the contrast between observation and invention. Get out a pencil the next time you're between appetizers!