Saturday, March 28, 2009

viva la victoriana

I'm always up for a spectacle and when I heard from Tracy Quimby at Victoria Mansion that a performance artist would be dressing from corset to cape, I had to be there.

As part of the NEA's Big Read initiative, Victoria Mansion had chosen The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. All kinds of book discussions, film screenings, and lectures are happening around this book.

I met up with two Victoriana fans in the front row of the PMA auditorium: Lex Golubow, a former student and recent MECA grad. She came dressed in her best Victorian outfit and ready to get a good look.

Lex often came to class in some kind of costume. She modeled for my representational illustration class at the McClellan wing of the Portland Museum of Art. I always draw alongside my students, just to recognize the challenge I am asking them to make. This sketch of Lex became part of a class graphic novella called "The McClellan Incident."

Later on in that class, Lex made this scratchboard illustration of a Victorian lady dressing, diligently researched and intricately detailed.

So I knew she would show up in style last Saturday.

My other cohort was Scott Dimond, art historian and impressario. He has given lectures on illustration history in my classes, bringing in a battered vintage suitcase crammed with ephemera from distant times.

This is one of my favorites:

I'm picturing the typesetter here, having fun with this silhouette.

Since Scott has a kangaroo fetish, I made this pastel for him, in that innocent age.

And here is the sketch HE did:

So, back to the event...

Kandie Carle did not disappoint! She was funny and informative, all while sweeping about the stage with turns of both elegance and humor. She told the audience that everyone wore corsets, including children and men. It was considered a foundation, underwear, a structure to promote proper bearing and posture. But it took two to get one on. Here she brought up a willing "maid" from the audience. Add grunts here.

It was NOT easy to sketch all this action. They were not posing, but acting. I did
10 quickie sketches. Here are a few:

Miss Kandie dressed in a lovely silk gown she sewed from a vintage pattern found in Delineator Magazine, a popular publication from the 1890's.

She talked, as she dressed, about the accessories as well. Like the fan: a tool for coded communication. At a ball, single women were accompanied by chaperones to protect their reputations. The fan held across the brow dramatically could say: we are being watched. Ah, subtle arts at work.

After a brief intermission, she was joined by Marc Casslar of the Vintage Dance Society, who discussed his fashions and their protocols. He said a man was "naked without his walking stick." Who knew?

Then, they demonstrated a full dance card of polkas, waltzes, and a mazurka!

At this point, I had to put my pencil down and just gape. Spare Parts provided the musical accompaniment.

As usual, didn't see the end. I had to dash like Cinderella for the ferry. But when history can come alive at events like this, we all benefit. It reinforces my goal to bring students to draw at places like Victoria Mansion; they've kindly hosted my class. Here is MECA senior Sarah Couming's sketch of fellow classmate, Peter Selmayr in his costume.

Megan Walker draws an ornate bed in this photo.

This is Kate Hastings' drawing. It captures an impatience with time, no matter what the era.

All this documentation has primed me for the upcoming book discussion at the island library followed by a screening of The Age of Innocence, a 1993 film version directed by Martin Scorcese.

Scott Dimond said, "The cult of manners then must have been suffocating. I know that life was no better then, but I left believing that we live in an impoverished age."

Well, viva la victorian!

Friday, March 27, 2009

thaw and draw

I worked on some wee little pastels for the new group show, "Thaw", at the Gem Gallery. I found this rough sketch in one of my sketchbooks, thinking it would be an idea to pursue. Then I morphed it into an absurd image of synchronized skaters on thin ice.

There was an event locally of the national synchronized skating association. I didn't go, but couldn't ignore the media around it. At any rate, I lost interest in the pastel.
I only had small frames and little time in which to do something so detailed. I returned my attention to nature instead.

I'm all done with my recent Nest, Nook, and Cranny job, but my birdwatching instincts remain. I have a thing for cardinals.
I think of my dad when I see or hear one. His favorite color was red. I grew up at an 18-unit motel called the Red Doors Motel, in Lincoln, New Hampshire.

Terry Tempest Williams says in a poem, "I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward."

I titled this pastel "Bittersweet Bird."

Then I worked on a scene up in Edgecomb, Maine where a former island neighbor has moved.
This one is titled "Cod Cove Melt."

It captures for me that shimmering glisten when snow finally departs.

Then I got into a pastel frenzy and did this rough version of a sunset I witnessed recently. Heading down front to the store for milk, I saw the bay mirroring the pink sky over House Island. This is titled "Dusky Chill."

I also framed a pastel I did at the end of last summer, as a nod to green. Yes, the island will thaw, the green will return. This is a view called "The Ice Pond."

I am so lucky to have a framer in the house! I could never get this together otherwise.
Thanks to you, Marty!

The Gem Gallery opening on March 20 was lovely, as always. The collective of Peaks Island artists manages to pull a certain sweetness out of nowhere every time.

Here is my little pastel nestled between fiber art by Suzanne Parrott and an oil painting of hers. She does it all.

And here my three pastels hang proudly between big talents: on left, Jane Banquer, printmaker, and on right, Paul Brahms, painter.

Tis the season for peeps! Suzanne compared the color qualities of sugar next to the lush layers of a Diane Wiencke painting.

So when folks wonder, incredulously, just what we DO out here in the winter, there is proof in the art, now bidding the season farewell. At last.

I came across this, perhaps a vestige of a stone ceremony....

Whatever it is, it brought a solid warmth to my bones, seeing elements of nature shape my vision.

For the latest on what's up at the Gem, check out the new blog.

Friday, March 20, 2009

seen and noted

I was invited to be part of a professional panel to review the progress of students in MECA's Illustration Department. It's always gratifying to see what students are up to, and this year's crop of majors has such a variety of directions up their sleeves. Senior Leonora Dechtiar is working on a children's book with puppets of Persian characters.

She got great feedback on the potential of 3D imagery in the book, along with hands-on puppet activities that could accompany readings.

Junior Katie Long is experimenting with book ideas, collaging, goauche, pop-up mock-ups, and the physicality of page-turning and visual drama.

Junior Stephan showed early pages from a graphic novel idea about a boxer. He has great drawing agility that makes for sequences with good punch.

Senior Amie Miklovich has zeroed in on her heart's desire: fashion drawing. In league with classmate, Dani Evans, who is sewing doll-sized versions of her clothing designs, Amie is having a blast and it shows.

This caused a flashback for me, since I spent my adolescent years drawing girls and fashion. Here's a typical one, from when I was 16.

I thought I would major in apparel design when I went to RISD in, ahem, 1976, until I noticed all the sewing machines. I hated Home Ec, and sewing was a nightmarish endeavor I hoped never to repeat. So I majored in Illustration, but without a single fashion illustration course in the curriculum. Turns out, it's not really necessary, as every illustration department is about broadening skills and stretching one's repertoire. I got my share of drawing discipline then and have done fashion illustration assignments here and there during my career. I make a point even now to trot out my Melissa Sweet colored pencils to document people and their fashions, just for kicks.

It's nice when somebody sits for a bit, like my daughter doing her homework on magma.

It's also fun to challenge my visual recall and draw sights seen from memory,
like the girl across the street, an eighth grader with a style all her own.

And the girl down the street who flies by.

When I picked up my daughter at middle school, I glimpsed a new batch of poses.
Here's the super skinny boy with two-tone hair and the ubiquitous tight hoodie.

This was a girl walking into Deering Oaks, pairing her practical red flannel jacket with a blooming skirt above red rainboots ready for mud.

I saw this girl sitting on the curb waiting for the school bus, but when I drew her she became older, and resembles more a MECA student desperate for a cigarette.

So I've maintained my eye for people, their gestures and personas. It's a good observational practice to follow-up later what the mind retains. Comes in handy with writing, too. It's like eavesdropping.

Spy now, sketch later!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

sweet reward

Every book that Melissa Sweet does seems to be just up my alley. There was Carmine, a Little More Red. Fabulous: reds galore, hot pinks, a fairy tale send up with an alphabet soup flavor. It was my favorite book, until....then she illustrated A Boy Who Drew Birds. Audubon and birds, what's not to like? Then, Tupelo Rides the Rails....trains, lonely hounds, the stars, a hobo. A book to tug at your heart and want to visit a shelter. So then, that was my favorite book. She just topped herself with A River of Words, a book of poetic leaps and collage symphonies.

It won a Caldecott Award! Bravo, Melissa!

I made this collage in her honor, in a nod to her inimitable style and the cover design.

She was celebrated at a recent soiree at Zero Station in Portland, complete with sweets and a display of her original art for the book.

All manner of notable folks turned out, librarians, illustrators, writers, fans, readers, muralists, photographers, musicians, kids, and of course, lovers of anything Melissa is involved in. My kind of crowd.

There were fun party hats and towers of cupcakes.

Fellow book artist Jamie Harper made cupcakes with bits of Melissa's illustrations on top (not edible, but divine...) here offered by our rockabilly hostess with the mostess, Kirsten Cappy.

There were also breads by Spelt Right. I had never had spelt, but Beth George happily toasted me the best bagel I've ever had. Spelt is an ancient grain with great flavor. She said, "I'm a baker on a mission!"

With a full belly, I found my way to the Collage Room. I wish I had a collage room to party in every day!

Melissa's illustrations take on the life of William Carlos Williams with lyrical juxtapositions, poetic whimsy, and colorful serendipity.

Congratulations to a Caldecott winner, so Sweet!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

bon annee!

Yep, today marks a year of blogging for me. Hard to believe. It was a quick year. I was skeptical about blogs, about me blogging, about the intention and time involved. Whether anybody reads it or not, it has been a challenging exercise and mostly a good one. I started at the urging of Kirsten Cappy, who has no doubt singlehandedly spawned a megaplanet of bloggers. The impetus was to give visibility to Rickshaw Girl, which I illustrated for Charlesbridge Publishing.

The author, Mitali Perkins, was coming to Portland for a library talk with me. It turned out to be a swell event; I could barely breathe when my turn came. Shortly afterwards, Rickshaw Girl won the 2007 Lupine Honor award from the Maine Library Association. It made the ABC Best Books for Children's list in 2007, and won a Jane Addams Peace Association Honor in 2008. According to Mitali, Rickshaw Girl has made lists in New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and France. Mitali says: "Suh-weet!"

I say, not bad for my first ever chapter book assignment! Oh, it also is on the Maine Humanities Council's New Books, New Readers list. Just got word that the book is a finalist for a 2009/2010 Children's Crown Award, too. Cool.

It seemed like a good time to do something else with the original art. I framed some of the illustrations for a faculty exhibit at Maine College of Art awhile back. I chose this piece to donate to the ILAP Celesoiree fundraiser coming up in two weeks.

This woman is a pivotal character, and the only adult that I drew. She is the owner of the rickshaw repair shop, much to the surprise of Naima, the would-be rickshaw driver. She is irritated here by Naima's interruption, but she changes the direction of the story. I love her.

Celesoiree is part silent art auction, international food festival, and world music concert. The event raises funds and awareness for the Immigrant Legal Assistance Project, while celebrating the immigrant community and the cultural vitality of Maine.

I am thrilled to be part of it, along with over 100 Maine artists and businesses.
Check it out: March 27!

Friday, March 6, 2009

sweet zeitgeist

I enjoyed a sweet return to the House of Ninja this week, otherwise known as the Illustration department at Maine College of Art. The Illustration and the Graphic Design departments now share studio space, allowing for an energetic cross-pollination of disciplines. For the first time, both departments hosted an Open Studio. I'm not really sure how much mixing goes on, but it was a full house of curious and curiouser.

Megan Walker and Mary Blaxland stood at the door exercising their considerable satiric skills in caricature, probably drawing me as the Faculty Beasty.

I spied a new face, Sarah Yakawonis, who turned out to be a serene senior in GD, with some lovely graphics ornamenting her corner, just a hint of her design skills. She showed me a Valley of the Dolls paperdoll book she has worked on. Very witty and well-done, and I loved her skirt!

I got the short story on senior illustration major Mary Blaxland's TV Boy, who makes a circuitous journey to the Great Goldfish through the rubble of past civilizations. I'm glad he has a little handsewn bunny to keep him company!

Sarah McCann, illustration senior, showed a well-researched body of work centered on zoology and critter fixations. Is that an anteater? In Sarah's expert hands, he no doubt has an impressive backstory.

The animal manifestations continued over in the Metalsmithing and Jewelry department, also hosting an Open House.

I am an absolute sucker for these fascinating fabrications.

Back in the Illustration Open House, I was drawn to a bold series of designs by junior illustration major Johann Nunez Kemp. I met him in a freshman foundation review, but have never shared a class with him. These designs excited me in their potential as pattern and visual language.

Like, is there a word I should decipher here? I don't really care. I read it anyway on a non-verbal level. He decided to apply this idea to a 3D torso.

While tattooing is a vogue of epic proportions, I find native and historical applications even more fascinating. I appropriated a Maori idea to an illustration awhile back.

I am way too squeamish for a tattoo of my own, so I draw them instead.

Once again, the idea of applied pattern seemed to recur in my line of sight, such as this wall, like an applied tattoo for interior design, by Bells & Whistles, a design firm in San Diego, that I spotted on designsponge, a fave blog.

And in an eerie example of synchronicity, here is a tattoo wall by Pamela Derosiers and Valeries Parizeault, partners in a design firm in Montreal.

So this confirms my little notion that there's some crazy kismet happening in circles near and far. While killing time in Boston recently, I spied this bit o' Fairey honey.

It was pasted to a construction walkway in Chinatown, a nod to Shepard Fairey's big event at the ICA, which I swear I will see soon. He is a master of surface patterning, graphic impact, and cultural theater.

Meanwhile, though, I battle the elements. And make my own manifestations of pattern and nature.

Here's to another Snow Day!