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!