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!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

let freedom ring

It felt like the day would never come. The AIGA poster display at MECA kept rotating and offering visual and mental prompts of the meaning of this vote.

Everyone distracted themselves with Halloween. I carved this good grief pumpkin in honor of the Charles Schulz bio I am reading now, and an ode to belief in the Great Pumpkin.

And the Nashes staged another inimitable performance on Halloween night.

A few students in my class posed with bits of costume; we drew from life while inventing an animal persona. My three:

This bit of frivolity was followed by a visit to the Portland Museum of Art's American Menagerie. Viewing original works of art in which the animal becomes a "vehicle of meaning" hopefully gave students more to consider in their own illustration project on an endangered animal. But maybe not. I've lost my way in the classroom this past week and may not find the way back.

Voting day was so serene and peaceful, full of cautious hope. We rode to the polling place on Peaks, taking the scenic route and counting the blessings of the day.

Voting for Obama made Marty smile a mile, sporting red, white, and blue and his Ride to Vote sticker.

It still sinks in, the historical and profoundly transformative impact of Obama's victory. I relish his ripple effect on the world, and feeling empowered: YES, we did.
The impossible is possible. And flowers are still blooming on our rocky coast in November.