Tuesday, October 21, 2008

making connections

While the biggest moment in NYC was receiving the Jane Addams honor award, there were plenty of other big moments as well. I reconnected with friends I haven't seen in years. Decades, even. Dessert on our first night in town at Cafe Lalo with Genevieve completely sweetened the trip. I first worked with her ages ago in Boston and we are in touch annually, around her almost solstice birthday. So many moons, so little time. We met her adorable Cormac at last.

Next day, it was lunch at Brasserie with fellow RISD alum, Bob de Michiell, who looks younger every time I see him.

We talked about mutual friends, the fickle illo biz, unexpected renovations, and the fact he and Daisy are both real Mainers, by birth. Bob also managed to get us tickets to 13, a fantastically relevant musical about the pressures of adolescence with an amazing cast of kids singing their hearts out. We loved it. Thanks, Jeff!

And luckily, there is great public art to be found everywhere. Look, a weepy bunny.

It's just plain fun to find out of scale cuteness in a cold world. Hello Kitty!

Speaking of scale, these heads by Jun Kaneko on Park Avenue were eye-catching.

I loved this one best, being the sucker for black and white that I am.

Daisy spotted this crop of peeps at Dag Hammarskjold Park after we left the UN Plaza. Sort of a cross between Keith Haring and Harry Nilssen.

We also peeked in at the New Bamboo exhibit at the Japan Society and browsed the Babar show at the Morgan Library.
We not only saw art, we bought it. Here's the $5. sketch involuntarily bought in Battery Park of guess who with her pal, Peggy.

Our last night in the city, I saw Madeline.
As she says, "we've come to that age when lipstick is so necessary!"

We caught up on life, sharing gossip and teaching anecdotes, showing off beading products, being comfy, all while the Red Sox were on TV, winning game 6 of the ALCS.

This trip was a blur of impressions to savor for a quite some time.

Sunshine, freedom, public art, whimsical elephants speaking French, my heart in my throat......so glad my family was with me. From island to island!

Thanks for the photo, Nicole!

Big moment in NYC

Whew. I actually made it, breathless and jittery to the 55th Annual Jane Addams Children's Book Awards presentation, across from the United Nations. Rickshaw Girl won in the Honor Books for Older Children category and author Mitali Perkins gave a memorable acceptance speech, acknowledging her family heritage and God, "author of MY story."
I had not written a speech, assuming I would follow Mitali, who would say everything in the best way possible,and I could simply say, thank you. But of course, I got going, and got choked up. Couldn't help myself: the story of unconditional love between a father and a daughter who struggles beyond the limits of her culture, testing what a girl is allowed to do in rural Bangladesh, always moves me. My father had to be content with two daughters, but he never made me feel second rate.
Mitali's story is from the heart, from her family legacy, and any kid can relate, anywhere in the world, to that kind of love. Then, I realize how much I miss my father in that moment. One significant legacy of a loving dad is the model for a good husband.
And mine was in the audience, with our daughter. They were not the least bit fazed that I got emotional.

Here are three beloved daughters....

The very cool thing was learning more about Jane Addams, the founder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915, and the first U.S. female winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. And now I have a doll!

The enormity of the event continues to settle, while I ponder ideas of peace, justice, and freedom, how we model these in our lives, families, and communities. The following day, we headed out on the Staten Island Ferry, to view the mother of American symbols, the Statue of Liberty. I found myself getting choked up again feeling such deep blessings and privileges of freedom, and all those who have died for it.

We didn't get too close, but seeing was believing. Believing in freedom so big it can still fit in the palm of your hand, and always be held inside, with honor and gratitude.

Thank you, Jane Addams, for all you represent and model for today's activists. It can be done. Thank you, Mitali, for your gifts of story and meaning. Thank you, Charlesbridge, for letting me draw that Bangla world onto the page. And thanks to my family, for believing in me, even when my voice breaks!

Monday, October 13, 2008

suddenly 5-0

Time flies. Suddenly, you hit that half-century milestone and wonder, how did I get here so fast? This birthday card from Marty says it all. I'm no daredevil, but there are days when it feels like I am jumping a chasm of self-doubt. A good couple of laps around the island on the bike usually gets that stink blown off.

It was a day of simple pleasures after an evening of potluck partying down the street, where Scott Nash presented those of us celebrating codgerhood with a satiric trophy. Finally! Something worthy of the mantel!

This one says: Take big bites. Indeed, an affirmation to live by.

I always love getting handmade things, especially cozy felt.

The birdy pillow, from Heidi, goes well with the wee pine pillows made by Mary Anne. I came across another felty find at the Gem Gallery during my motorcycle loop. Suzanne Parrott's show, Wool et Bare, was a colorful installation of her fiber art.

I spent a bit of birthday money on a pair of these fingerless gloves.

I also sported my new necklace made by my daughter.

After the island ride, and a sizzling dinner grilled by Marty, I was treated to cake made by the family.

I savored the loopy icing, the wishing, and all the blessings of life with every BIG bite.

A card I received summed it up: Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.

Sudden serendipity

Yay, Sudden Fiction class has begun again. Award-winning writer, Eleanor Morse, deftly leads a group of 12 writers with a seemingly simple premise: take a prompt, write for one hour, and read aloud. Sounds easy, but it's in fact a complex and heart-thumping experience. The undeliberated act of writing in the midst of others has proven invigorating. I found out: I got me a well of material inside. Eleanor asks us to let it out, unedited, unfettered. Comments upon reading must be positive only. Eleanor says, "So, what's the rigor in that? Well, it waters the strong parts while letting the weak parts be forgotten."

Truly, encouragement is an underused teaching tool. I've taken the technique into my own classes; prompts, free reign, and praise have yielded some great responses from my students. I mean, really, art school can be a cavernous den of egos and criticism. Nobody wants to take a risk. But I have to take risks, alongside my students.

Recently, I asked them to head outside the classroom and do 10 sketches in an hour:
4 females, 4 males, one animal, and one person with a wheeled vehicle of any kind.
After doing a bit of paperwork, I headed out onto Congress Street to draw. In "The Undressed Art: Why We Draw", Peter Steinhart writes, "Drawing is a way of communicating with the world, of listening to what the world has to say and answering back." Finding a sunny perch on the sidewalk near a bus stop, I got out my charcoal pencil.

When you draw, you have a short and intense relationship with your subject. Proportions, posture, clothing, and temperment somehow surface in the marks you make.
And drawing from a person who has not given you permission, who may not know what you're up to, means you make your decisions quickly. This is visual agility training.
This man was holding a bag and glancing in both directions, scanning for the bus. I imagined him taking the #5 to the Mall and applying for Macey's Santa position.

Santa man got on the bus. I kept my gaze but drew a guy in my foreground, taking a break right on the opposite bench. He's an artist who works in the facilities department, but I don't know his name and did this as stealthily as I could.

It was time to move my viewpoint. I crossed the street and caught this stoutly stylish lady just before she stepped on the bus. I liked her skirt.

This was my wheeled entry: a double one, the delivery man with his dollie rolling into the back of a SYSCO truck. I normally don't gravitate to drawing vehicles, but hey, I gotta set a good example.

This lady was probably waiting for a bus, too. All sexy and wearing a very sharp leather jacket, smoking a cigarette and taking in the street scene. At this point, my pencil needed sharpening, but I'd left that in the classroom. I was out of colored paper. I fished in my bag for another pencil and drew 5 more in a lined notebook.
I loathe drawing on lined paper, but I did it to complete the task. Headed back to the classroom, where everyone put up some of their hasty sketches. There are always at least a few good things that come from this sudden sketching. Sharper perceptions, an awareness of choices, shorthand, and radar. Why are we drawn to certain things? Why are we compelled to draw them?

Now, students are supposed to take one of the "field notes" from the outing and do 25 more drawings of that one person, morphing in any possible way through characterization, distortion, memory, invention, backstory. Try it, it's fun!

The next day, I had volunteered in a classroom at King Middle School as part of the Lead On project. Students are learning about leadership, researching leaders, doing portraits of a chosen leader, and self-portraits, picturing themselves as leaders. People like concrete how-to-draw formulas, but honestly, there are none. In my view, each artist has to hold the pencil himself, look through his own eyes, establish his own point of view. Students were given paper (I gave out a couple of sheets), pencils, and mirrors.
Mr. Miranda reminded them about PERSERVERANCE, which has to be the most key phrase for artists! Drawing is a challenging task in any circumstance, but drawing one's own face can be an exercise in complete frustration. Again, I provided encouragement and used the extra sheet of paper to draw an example of say, how I draw a nose. In sixth grade, there's enough distraction to go around. But both classes I saw had good determination, due diligence, and they gave me a King clap at the end. One student asked to have someone pose, real quick, for her. I volunteered. She did this sketch in about 3 or 4 minutes, signed it, and gave it to me!

Olivia, you are a brave and brilliant artist, and may your skills of agility and observation grow stronger with age and practice. Keep up the good work!

Monday, October 6, 2008

red leaf leap

egads.....I kinda fell off the blog horse for awhile. I look forward to the fall, thinking it will be more sane, slow, and organized than summer. With less mosquitos. But it never fails: autumn is downright frenetic.

I am: back at MECA. where I have my largest class ever, 23 students in Illustration 1. Their first project involved doing a personal logo, some icon that symbolizes them, their aesthetic. A good ice-breaker. I learn a lot about them in one small image. So, what does my logo say about me? All you need to know: I love red, strong shapes, autumn, falling leaves, and the sense of sight.

I am greeted by a flight of posters in the halls at MECA, sponsored by the AIGA.

This one is simply haunting. Is it patriotic to vote? What if our vote is cast for the president who loses by a chad? And we watch while soldiers die? They die so we can vote freely.

This goes at the wound. Can we be healed by the act of voting? Every day can be a debate, lately.

In the ICA Gallery, "Ruminant", a collective exhibit of four art professors, poses some visual curiosities as well.The lists by Adrianne Herman make a wall of diligent intentions. She has an uncanny eye for humble details that, magnified, say so much about human nature. I went to Yoonmi Nam's art talk. Her drawings had intrigued me, deliberate sumi ink marks making order from rubble.

This piece, Disco Barrier, by Yumi Janairo Roth, makes me smile. Sawhorses in mirror mosaics. Oddly whimsical...wish I'd had one in the 80's

I went from musing on art to celebrating milestones with two good friends at the Blue Spoon recently, where a waitress in a sheer red polka dot apron (I want one!) brought a little dessert topped by two tall candles.

Life is sweet.

Especially so when my new middle schooler still finds time to play in the magical realm. She and her friend constructed this lovely fairy house with a red leaf entry path. It invites me to imagine, to find big wonder in life's little ways.