Monday, December 28, 2009

angels sing

I want angels to make the world white. And peaceful. Now that Christmas has come and gone in a flurry of activity, another snow day would suit me fine. I drew the angel above many years ago, while living in San Francisco, where snow was just not gonna happen.

I sent this angel out for another season of warm wishes and gold leaf prayers.

This angel bears a heavenly resemblance to my daughter, what a surprise.

I spent an afternoon last week gallery sitting at the Gem Gallery, where all manner of angels abound, like these paper ones by Diane Wiencke.

This one was crafted by Suzanne Parrott, who can't resist stray fiber scraps.

I'm not one to be idle, either, and between art patrons, I made a few concoctions with scraps from my files and a glue stick. Like this au naturel angel.

And, I sold my first copy of the SECOND edition of Seven Days of Daisy! It may be a wee book, but it has big color and island scenes to make you smile. It looks so sweet next to this child's painted chair by Nancy Chalmers.

Time now to check the snow outside for angel tracks...

Friday, December 18, 2009

city of belief

I met the author of City of Belief, Nicole d'Entremont at the potluck conclusion of my second course in Sudden Fiction. Taught by Eleanor Morse, an island neighbor and award-winning author, the class was an epiphany of sorts. I'd already taken a correspondence Writing for Children course with the Institute for Children's Literature. A pretty substantial course, too, in which every assignment involved research and revisions and word counts and age targets. Sudden Fiction was like vacation in comparison. Just putting pen to paper and letting your ideas wander for an hour. The even bigger surprise was finding I never drew a blank. With inspired prompts, I sailed off without provisions or life jackets. Just the wind at my back and a deep well of self to draw from.

Eleanor passed the torch to Nicole, a veteran teacher of writing, and another band of writers hunkered down under her intense guidance, to work deeper into the grooves of a chosen character. During these sessions Nicole was writing a new novel and simultaneously pulling together this story, one she'd been holding for decades.

City of Belief is set in New York City's Lower East Side in and around a soup kitchen run by the Catholic Worker's organization in the 60's. It's drawn from her own experiences as a relief worker and witness to protests and war resisters. As she edited her self-published novel, she approached me about doing the book jacket.

Pivotal events in the story happened on November 9, 1965, before a complete blackout of the city. She wanted an image of a full moon, and the city skyline.

I worked on several ideas, as usual. Not hard, since moons are a favorite subject.

Sketch one, which follows a rough sketch that Nicole showed me.

With the obligatory out of the way, I moved on to other approaches.

Sketch two:

Sketch three, this one maybe an obligatory nod to the trippy feel of the times:

Sketch four, done as an afterthought:

Nicole had supplied me with a microfiche copy of the front page of the New York Times on that fateful day. My collage tendencies could not resist making a double metaphor of the headlines and skyline. And this one seemed to hit the right chord for Nicole.

It went through a few other refinements:

Some tweaking of the author's name placement, and then a final cover:

Nicole was on the family farm in Nova Scotia when the book went on Amazon. She's done some readings, but is not the center stage sort, has not hit the book signing trail just yet. She gave an eloquent reading at the Peaks Island Library in November,
sparking discussion about the peace movement and where it went.

She told me she was surprised to receive a good review in Commonweal, which she said is
"what's left of the left wing of the Catholic perspective."

Nicole's story is fiction yet features both real life characters and many whose names were changed but bear close resemblance to denizens of the Bowery. "I couldn't have written this in my 20's," she said.

Events that shape our lives take time to create that deep groove. City of Belief is a delicate slice of a complicated era that bears more than a single reading. It's a haunting story of sacrifice and lost futures.

I was also working on an illustration for the Lunar Calendar around the same time. There's nothing like watching the full moon rise over the ocean. And with that calendar, I know just when it will, and can dash back there to witness.

This particular moonrise worked it's way into my art for the 2010 edition, that accompanies a poem by Ryk McIntyre titled, "Pulling"....

It ends with this:

Do not think me obscure,
even on cloudy nights,
even when I am so dark
I look missing. I am nothing
if not faithful. I wax. I wane.
I pull love songs out of the mouths
of sleeping oceans, still I wonder

which of us started
this love song first.

The calendar from Luna Press keeps me grounded in a belief in the natural cycles of my life, always spiraling, ebbing and flowing. Being aware of unseen forces that connect me to this rock, fellow writers, and stories that bind.

Did you know there will be a full moon on New Year's Eve? It will rise in the east at 4:20 PM. Look for a partial eclipse and then, make a wish for peace in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

snow day

Hello winter! I love being snug as a bug in my creaky house (with 6 fireplaces) watching a storm blow sideways outside. Today a snow day was called for Portland schools before a single flake had fallen at 5 AM. Now, though, the world is white and there is nowhere to go. Ahhhhh.

I grew up in the White Mountains, so school cancellations are an oddity. In NH, snow means business: ski industry. I pretty much don't remember snow days. But now they are quite the gift; to hibernate a bit. Gives me time to think about all the snowflakes I've sprinkled over illustrations, such as the one above.

I did this illustration awhile back for the Baltimore Sun, and it still gives me a good feeling. It accompanied a poem by Dylan Thomas, "A Child's Christmas in Wales."

After moving to Peaks Island, I did this for the annual holiday card, referencing all the magic of white reindeer and radiant light.

This is this year's card, a nod to nature's influence on our holidays.

Makes me want to make some hot chocolate and check my list for Santa.

Speaking of that, a big shout out to my illustration class of merry elves!!!
They managed to pull together their wares, business cards, and portfolios in the nick of time for MECA's recent Holiday Sale.

Here Alysa, Joe, and Seumas man the table.

I got compliments from MECA organizers on the professionalism and courtesy of these illo elves. Here is Elise, showing a smile is all you need.

The students made illustrated letters to hang over the display of t-shirts, aprons, zines, cards, buttons, bags, pillows, bookmarks, jewelry, card games, and calendars. A great variety of handmade products!

From sweet stuff like this by Alysa:

to clever buttons like this by Seumas:

to snowball prints and ornaments by Joe:

I love this shot by MECA staffer, Annie Wadleigh, in which the colorful spirit of MECA

The illustration majors proved they can hustle. Kudos for everyone!

Now it's time to make a snowfort, or at least that hot chocolate.

Stay warm!

Monday, November 30, 2009

tis the season

With the pies gone and the turkey slept off, the holiday drill must begin. I had the delicious opportunity to bring my illustration class to a tech rehearsal of Santaland Diaries at Portland Stage Company, which proved to be a perfect segue for the season. It was challenging, to say the least, but put us all in a properly satiric mood.

Dustin Tucker plays Crumpet, a disenchanted Macy's elf. Here is my quick sketch of the stage setting.

I told my students beforehand that it would be hard, very hard, to capture a moving target, but this was a chance to strengthen their recall and eye for detail.

Here is Alysa's sketch, a study of costume and character.

One thing I love about sharing a classroom with illustration students is their sheer variety of responses. Here is Thom's sketch, done with soft charcoal, large and gestural, from a figure drawing stance, yet showing great energy.

This one from Seumas, who makes use of a middle ground:

Bret always goes for the maniacal:

Stephan has an easy line, and here documents the directors who kept stopping the action to finesse the lighting and sound effects.

In this sketch, also by Stephan, he captures a picture book quality of the character.

Sarah McCann caught the slouch of an actor in sullen repose during a 9 hour rehearsal.

From the same angle, Joe sees a different attitude:

Cyndi created a very deliberate and stylized face:

Elise got the actor in a down moment, between the numerous takes. We were actually fortunate that there were many, for our purposes.

I drew another "between takes" from across the room.

I'm not the kind of teacher that draws over a student's drawing. I encourage them to draw what attracts them, to draw as they see fit. By drawing alongside them, I recognize just what I am asking them to do. I can only hope that offering venues for drawing from life, theater, and situations that don't sit still will
sharpen their skills and eyes for drama, the seen and unseen, and magically invented.

This is a small slice of the many drawings done on site. I did a ton of just the actor's profile, completely unable to accurately capture his nose. Drawing is quite often a frustrating exercise, but you draw, and draw again. It's a persistence that demands fitness and focus.

We were all distracted by the hilarity of the play, what little we saw in two hours, given the repeated stops for tech adjustments. But as an exercise in visual essay, it was worth it.

Bravos to Crumpet and Portland Stage! Go see Santaland Diaries!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

songs and stories for a soggy saturday

Rainy days are the perfect opportunity to curl up with a good book. Instead, I braved vast puddles and stormy seas to admire what's up with stories and the folks who create them.

First I went to the community center on Peaks Island to see Shana Barry, a former islander and creator of Fofers. She awed a crowd of all ages with her sweet vocals and guitar, singing about pink whales and peaceballs, creatures who inhabit the colorful world of Fof, a secret island off the coast of Maine. "Fofers are very shy," she told us, yet each of her characters has a certain furry something about them. Shana is multi-talented: writing songs, animating them, and fabricating fuzzy puppets that mesmerize kids with their serene faces and gangly limbs.

Her colors and simple graphics bear a resemblance to my daughter's work, which is inspired by a real, not-so-secret island but nonetheless magical. Daisy made this of our island:

We then departed across the bay to Many Voices, a book fair hosted by CAFAM and Curious City. It's a bright and busy bebop of activity, a must destination for anyone interested in books with diversity and great illustration, fragrant dumplings, and paper dragons.

We acquired the latest from Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, having become major fans of her Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat.

She graciously signed books while kids were running to the stations in her activity that followed the journey of the book's character. Brilliant!

It was a swell chance to meet up with friends, teachers, and fellow book lovers.

From Portland, we traveled in driving sheets of rain to Freeport, to see the
Maine Illustrators Collective exhibit, The Classics Re-Imagined. The Freeport Community Library is some swanky place, with a vast collection in a spacious and inviting environment.

My Alice version is below:

She's in good company, next to Leticia Plate's bright and graphic version:

And next to hers, Christina Siravo's:

Alice is the only book that had multiple re-imaginings here. No doubt because she's such a metaphor for feeling tossed about, confused, dwarfed by the chaos and surrealism of the world. Yet able to challenge conventions and remain ever curious.

Here is Marty's fun bunny:

And this is by Michael Boardman, who recently visited my MECA class with his silkscreen expertise.

The show is a fun display of the power of enduring characters that can pop to life in new ways. We returned to our rock in the ocean, content to curl up with a book at last.

Snuggled and cozy, like in this final scene I illustrated in Maddie's Magical Ride.....where a good book is the best way the end the day.