Sunday, May 31, 2009

meca in may

The spring semester at MECA came to it's perennially manic culmination. Even though I didn't teach this past semester, I participated in a critique panel, a workshop for incoming students, and reviews, keeping half an eye on things. It's a frantic time for students, finishing projects, papers, flipping out. It's a feast for viewers. The halls are alive with fresh work. I'm partial to wordplay, and this piece by Regis Biron says the most about being creative.

And I applaud direct methods, like this graphic mural by Drew Romeo.

Students are adept at playing with cliche and parody. It's a natural side effect of too many art history lectures. This painting by senior Mary Blaxland is a funny mash-up of cartoon and art icon.

Senior Michelle Testa exhibited a cunning take on gender branding in product design.

Senior Brendan Croasdale created a splashy wall of silk-screened posters. Ninjas meet vixens. Could be the next brand.

I'm drawn to anything that plays with the vision metaphor, like this buckle.

And how about this belt? Artists get too often cast as cerebral, when in fact we are hands-on workers. We pack many, many tools in our skill set, forging new ideas with any material you can imagine.

The MFA thesis exhibit is up now at the ICA gallery, always a must-see. I found this installation like an uncomfortable visit to anxiety. Darkened, with bottles and clear bags of fluid, it was saying something, not sure what. Water resources? Pollution? Viral samples? I like art that is non-direct, too. The artist, Reenie Charriere, explained later, "I live in Oakland, California where pollution is out of control, and I have researched the accumulation of plastic in the Gyre Current in the Pacific Northwest. Growing up in New England I also have enjoyed the pristine, quaint beauty that doesn't necessarily exist everywhere.
By the way, the water was a collection of water from the Casco Bay as well as an estuary in Cape Elizabeth."

Her thesis, called dis-place or THAT can be seen on LULU.
She has a current piece at Swarm Gallery in Oakland, CA.

Another installation hulked squarely in the middle of Portland's most spacious gallery. A dwelling made of stacked trunks, it conjured conflicting notions about travel and home. Titled "Themselves has been a gathering" by Tina Zagyva, it's an odd parallel to the installation currently at the PMA biennial, the "Hermit House" by Ethan Hayes-Chute. Both have constructed elaborate spaces meant to engage the viewer and Zagyva's felt more perplexing and less an obvious homage to something else like Hayes-Chute's piece.

The biennial and MECA's MFA program share the installation craze, definitely.

Island neighbor Jessica George has an impressive installation of paintings, photographs, and crates in a mapped arrangement of content and form.

Each painting is a glistening surface of masked topography. Every one a marvel.

Last week the illustration department welcomed a new colleague, Rob Sullivan. Here he is with his recent show, Minumentals, at Art House.

Welcome to the world of MECA, with it's ever-fluid body of creators. Congratulations, class of 2009!

Monday, May 25, 2009

puzzling together history

Memorial Day seems like a good time to mention that I recently worked on a puzzle activity for the Fifth Maine. Built as a reunion spot for Civil War veterans, now it is a museum and community hall, site of countless weddings, concerts, and educational outings. I've visited the Fifth Maine on Peaks Island many times for events over the years, but learned plenty during the research for this assignment. Marty designed this sharp logo awhile back that captures the clean lines of this antique structure.

I browsed around the cases of artifacts, all of them locked and in the actual arrangement by the original Fifth Maine Regiment veterans. Who knows what this is?

It's hard tack, a common food staple for Civil War soldiers. Looks like a prehistoric Saltine. As a line drawing, it could also be a mattress. Sort of.

And what's a war without bullets? It's a curious display, thinking about saving bullets, possibly removed from the wounded.

My drawing is large, a metaphor of how big a part they play in carnage.

I also found a small-scale cannon. A toy? For all those generations who play war.

And my drawing. You see how I rely on my photos for reference.

I was mainly interested in artifacts with a variety of sizes and shapes, knowing that I would be jumbling them, juxtaposing it all to disguise the elements.

I liked this canteen for it's number. Two who?

Ovals are a good drawing challenge.

I photographed and drew 13 objects. Then I made a rough sketch, throwing them together.

I scanned my separate drawings, then made a layered composition in Photoshop, where I could play around with the size and scale of each artifact. Since the watch seemed like an obvious thing, I buried that beneath other items. I made the bullet big, while the cannon is tucked into the corner.

Together, this puzzles engages young visitors to the museum to find and think about these items. Maybe ask what they were for, how they were made, who was it that used them, who placed them here on display. And why? All good questions, not just for children or Memorial Day, but every day we think about our national heritage, and about the men who built this place to commemorate their battles and the struggle for an end to slavery. Today's island volunteers and docents who keep the Fifth Maine open and maintained are the stewards of that precious legacy.

And the view can't be beat!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

comic art fans unite

Not even a rainy morning could keep us comic fans from heading over to the first ever Maine Comics Arts Festival in Portland on Sunday. The fact that kids 12 and under, PLUS librarians and educators, were FREE was undoubtedly a draw. My daughter is a fan of Kean Soo's Jellaby and was dying to get her hands on the next story. He obliged her with not just a signature, but a little sketch, too. Sweet.

She found out from her teacher the next day that she was on TV, in the brief bit on a local channel.

I was happy to see several MECA students in attendance, and exhibiting. Here's Liz Heller doing great things.

And here is fellow MEIC member Cristina Siravo showing her lovely products.

While the rest of my family was browsing, I attended an informative presentation by Peter Gutierrez, who talked about the unique qualities of sequential art to engage young readers. There are multi-modal benefits of reading text and image in juxtaposition, in terms of parallel narratives, subtexts, and semiotics. He showed excellent examples of comic and graphic novel art, demonstrating all the unseen reading that takes place between images, and the fluency, vocabulary-building, and visualization that occurs in visual literacy. Artists have no clue the powerful things they can do, invisibly, with their bare hands! POW!

This comes as no surprise to savvy librarians like Kelley McDaniel of King Middle School who has rounded up a group of unsuspecting teachers for a zine workshop with me. I typically give my sophomore illustration students a zine assignment, as a good early exercise in sequential visualization and mechanical production. But why wait til college? Middle school is the source of angst and the emerging self. As a zine fan, Kelley found incredible treasures at MECAF, like Coping with Death, a zine with heart-breaking deadpan wisdom.

Jay Piscopo is as suave a spokesperson for comics as we could possibly invent. He deserves a hand for giving visibility to the event, and to artists. Laura Richter, an award-winning technology integrationist presented a new curriculum for Jay's Undersea Adventures of Capt'n Eli, an ingenious coupling of brand and character coming soon to a school near you. POW!

I purchased some hand-made editions, rather than the notable and fantastic authors that headlined the event, since I stupidly didn't bring enough cash.

Peaks Islander Annie O'Brien was there with her Korean folk tale in graphic novel form, Hong Kil Dong.

It was such an amazing crowd of talent, overwhelming, in fact. I could have bought one thing from everybody there, if I wasn't a skimpy artist myself. It was also a familiar and endearing group, many of them probably dreading the public interface, and keeping their heads down over their sketchbooks. I've been behind a few tables myself, and it's a knotty feeling in the gut to sit there while people pass you over. I made some selections based entirely on impulse and title. Like "it's sexy when people know your name" by Lisa Hanawalt. She's the girl in the striped sweater lovingly drawing a singing pony inside the zine I bought.

Here's fellow islander and illustrator Doug Smith, chatting up Marek Bennett who did a fun presentation on the 24 hour comic frenzy.

Doug's been to comic cons all over, in pursuit of classic collectible art, and found the art at MECAF disappointing. He's more into traditional heroic realism and painterly sci-fi. This crowd of artists is not your mainstream superhero flock. In fact, they are often aw shucks geeky, like this beauty I saw heading into the presentation by the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Having toured the amazing CCS awhile back, I was sorry to miss their Self-Publishing 101. But I was too bleary from the Surviving as a Print Cartoonist. Got to see my daughter's hero, Lincoln Pierce, speak. And find myself a new hero, Corey Pandolph. His self-deprecating sarcasm was most authentic. Check out the video of Leopard Man on his blog. That guy is a peculiar phantom of Portland and may be the one thing to lure Corey back into Maine's evil clutches. If we're lucky.

So I ambled off, skipping the afternoon's line-up of new stars, and headed back to the island. Heard the contestants were lodged at the Inn, but I hope at least one of them saw more of Peaks Island than that. I challenged my visual recall by drawing more of the cast I encountered.

This is Sofi, heading onto the boat with her jaunty beret over her mohawk.

Here is a girl whose shirt I admired. I noticed she was drawing her 24 minute comic during the Surviving as a Print Cartoonist panel.

This is Otto, the lucky son of the fabulous Jessica and Henry, with a very sober air, holding his plush puffin toy like a precious avatar.

I did these drawings from memory, so pardon the lack of likeness.
Here is Mike and daughter, in a stunning example of parenting with care. I'm of the opinion that cultivating a sense of humor, love of comics (and zombies), and art comes way before anything else. To expose kids to observing the world, drawing with imagination, and believing in super powers is a great calling.

Big applause for Rick Lowell at Casablanca Comics, for conceiving the event. As my favorite book babe, Kirsten Cappy said, "It's a sweet little monster to pull together."

Friday, May 15, 2009

open house hoopla

Three cheers for Charlesbridge! I buzzed down to Boston on Wednesday with fellow island illustrator and diva, Annie O'Brien, to celebrate our favorite publisher's 20th anniversary. We shared good parking karma all day, and schmoozed with a bevy of creators, staff, and bookhounds.

I'm not new to illustration (egads, almost 30 years!) but am relatively new to this children's book world. It was a surprise to encounter some familiar faces from my distant early days, such as Leslie Evans, Robin Brickman, David Biedrzycki, and former student (from my brief chapter teaching at the Art Institute of Boston) Shennen Bersani.

Here I am butting into chat between David and Shennan.

Annie O'Brien is excited about her latest book, After Ghandi, which Charlesbridge published this spring. She gave a reading recently with her son and co-author, Perry.

We both brought original art for display, and there was an amazing show of art all over the office. I was thrilled to see the proofs for my latest project,
Nest, Nook, and Cranny by Susan Blackaby.

Coincidentally, I received this delightful surprise from Susan Blackaby recently.

It is THE MOST adorable little book, and is my first-ever handmade thank you from an author. Everybody assumes that authors pick illustrators. In fact, publishers pick the manuscript, then they pick the illustrator, and rarely do the two meet during the production process. Sometimes after publication. Sometimes never.

Kudos go out to Susan Sherman, who as a Charlesbridge art director, knows how to pick 'em. The trust she bestows on her illustrators is a wonderful thing. I'm grateful to have been matched with Mitali Perkins for Rickshaw Girl, which keeps winning awards.
Here she is, chatting with illustrator, Anna Alter.

Congratulations, Charlesbridge, for matching talents, making great books, connecting stories, art, and readers with inspiration and dedication. And for making the best cupcakes!

Thanks to Susan Blackaby for this sweet keepsake of our book, which comes out in February 2010. Yay!

Friday, May 8, 2009

mum's the word

"Compassion for our parents is the true sign of maturity" said Anais Nin.

I've been learning this a lot lately. My mum has been through some scary emergencies this year, and that she's here for another Mother's Day is nothing short of a miracle.

I found some old pix from my first photo album, apparently the result of getting my first camera for Christmas in 1969. With one of these, I've made this card for my mum, in recognition of her style. I had a notion that my sense of style was all mine, but when I came across a picture of my mother in a polka dot scarf and bright red lipstick, it sinks in that she had it long before I knew what it was.

Here's to all mothers, who pass on more than they know and children rarely recognize.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 1, 2009

o say can you see

I have so much to process from our recent trip to Washington, DC, I don't know where to begin. We traveled with friends, saw old friends, and plenty of art and monuments in between. The change in administration and spring blossoms drew crowds just like us, so we didn't get our White House tour tickets. But it's the very first sight we needed to see upon arrival. Isn't is beautiful?

The next day was sunny and sublime, taking in the glories of the National Mall. Both my daughter and I took photos of Alexander Calder's "The Gwenfritz," a 35- ton stabile at the corner of the Smithsonian. Hers captures the delightful tension of figure/ground principles better than mine. The egg-shaped negative space foreshadows other sights to see.

The carousel was a welcome spot: shade and music and maybe never growing up.

The most striking aspect about DC was the openness, the visibility of the Washington Monument from just about anywhere. What vision the nation's architects had back before the population explosion, to create a vast field that would someday be packed with freedom seekers! This wasn't my first trip to DC, yet my awe overwhelmed me. Must be age.

We nabbed a fun pedicab ride over to the Lincoln Memorial. This was undoubtedly the most moving moment. Lincoln's 200th birthday has been celebrated all year, but visiting his memorial let the power of history truly sink in.

Next stop, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. It's downright mind-boggling there.

From big stuff:

to this radiolarian (photoplankton?) magnified 3400 times that caught my eye:

Lucky for me, Marty was willing to take kids to the Spy Museum so that the moms could visit the contemplative beauty found at the National Musuem of Women in the Arts.
where a fabulous exhibit called "Mary McFadden Goddesses" was happening. It was surely divine intervention, to have both fashion and cosmic serendipty coincide. The gowns featured Greek, Egyptian, Italian, Persian, and Asian influences. Her painted silk designs and collectible jewelry made me swoon. A show of Louise Dahl-Wolfe's photos and the permanent collection also hit many chords. And to see a Frida painting in person is like visiting an altar.

We stayed with an old friend (and former diplomat) of Marty's who suggested we couldn't visit DC without seeing the "seat of power."

We encountered free speech, tourists, and the enormity of democracy all in one.

Nearby we visited National Museum of the American Indian, housed in an undulating ode to native architecture.

Besides a surprising exhibit on American Indian comics, there were numerous collections of artifacts and contemporary art. Loved this gold display.

I love this mosquito mask, too. Praying for no bites this summer.

Right next door is the National Air and Space Museum. At this point, I was bordering on museum fatigue. Who wouldn't? There is only so much national heritage one can take in 3 days. We gratefully sank into plush seats in the Einstein Planetarium for a mesmerizing movie on black holes. It took me so far beyond the beyond, I was done. Left my family inside to sit vacantly on the museum steps and stare catatonically at this sculpture. Worked for me.

We were rescued from tourism then by my college chum, David Hicks. He brought us to his groovy digs to catch up, relax, and reconnect. More art to enjoy, like this luscious painting of his, somewhat obstructed by one weary kid.

David works by day as the photo editor at The Washingtonian, but otherwise keeps busy with multiple creative outlets: painting, piano-playing, and erstwhile animation. Check out his Board Games episode!

I love this painting, also David's, and it's signage.

The next day it was off to Baltimore to see more sights and folks. First stop: Donna's.

Both Marty and I worked with Donna in her design days, at the Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun. We hadn't visited her restaurant empire since 1993, and it only grows more delicious and elegant with time. Here's an early menu I illustrated, way back when Donna's was new and I was doing collage.

She dropped us off at the Baltimore Museum of Art where I spotted my cover for "Secrets of the Cirque Medrano" in their special circus shop, in honor of a current exhibit, "Picasso to Leger."

This was my favorite find, a Warhol I'd never seen before that triggered my radar around eggs and nests.

We stayed with ex-islanders, Karen and Steve and son, Zach. Loved, loved their house! And look, we had fresh bread made by Steve and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast that could have leapt from that Warhol painting. A sight to behold and the taste lingers.

Both Karen and Steve are accomplished writers and performers, but I never knew Karen was a drop-dead amazing painter, too! She has a way with the palette knife in this portrait of her son.

All I managed to do on this entire trip was draw their cat. I am allergic to cats, and cats never cease to be drawn to my disenchanted air. But this one respected my boundaries, curling up a few feet next to me while the gang was at Zach's baseball game. (Go Cavaliers!) We had a wordless conversation. Just what I needed at that point.

The biggest surprise of the entire trip was visiting the American Visonary Art Musuem
a quirky Baltimore gem that's a must-see. From the mirror mosaics to the outsider art, I was in a state of wonder. Still am. Note recurring egg theme.

Folk art is alive and well here.

The newest exhibit is called "The Marriage of Art, Science, and Philosophy," and presented notions of play, intuition, and desire as primary forces shaping creative invention. From the show's dedication to Arthur C. Clarke to radiant sculptures of planets to paintings by Alex Gray, the whole thing had me hovering a few feet off the ground. This quote by Einstein hung on one wall: "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination." It was a reminder not to dismiss my right brain so often.

According to the show's catalog, museums "have their purpose harnessed to the proliferation of wonder and the presentation and preservation of the rare, the well-crafted, and a more awake way of firsthand witnessing. The American Visionary Art Museum believes that if one is only dedicated to things, art as object, you establish a repository for the dead, a mausoleum rather than a MUSE (an alive, spirit, vision, inspiration-based) museum. Right on!

The AVAM says, "Visonaries are the brave scouts at the frontier of the unknown."

This sign probably lights up at night, beckoning visionaries from all corners.

Young girls in love with Obama will carry their vision of hope into the future.

Believe in the invisible!