Monday, July 27, 2009

seeds of conflict and peace

One aspect of illustration I relish is the chance to do research. Maybe I miss doing those book reports from school, or maybe it's my keen curiosity. I had a fantastic opportunity to go back in time, waaaay back, when I worked on a project for Cricket Magazine. "Jason and Jonathan" is a story by Eric Kimmel, set in ancient Judea. Two boys from opposite sides of their village, one Greek, the other Judean, meet in the caves above the town and become friends.

Art director Karen Kohn provided some reference, mostly of Greek soldiers and Greek vase art, while I scoured the local library and my own clipping files for something to spark my sense of that time and place. The illustrations also involved battle, not something I have drawn before. There's nothing like primary sources to get me going, so I found some island models. Since Cricket is aimed at 9 - 14 year-olds, I contacted Liam, who is 14. He found another friend, Jack, to come along. I asked them to wear shorts and sandals and bring something like a sword.

In the first scene, they are lying on a cliff, gazing at shooting stars. Here's the shot I used for reference.

And here's the sketch.

I also contacted a neighbor, Steve Schuit, who has been to Jerusalem and traveled in the Middle East. Steve and his wife, Marsha, are consultants to groups, while being civic leaders and art advocates in their community, and have hosted numerous art shows in their home. He showed me great landscape shots like this one.

It informed the setting for the final illustration.

The boys took many poses, getting into the act. Liam here finds a live Greek on the battlefield.

It's Jack, his long-lost friend.

Here's my sketch, in which I accidentally switched the players.

It was the Judean standing, not the Greek. So I revised that in the final illustration.

In the final scene of the story, the Greek boy encounters other Greek soldiers, and he pretends to take his friend hostage. My models were great:

Here's the sketch.

Karen asked me to refine the helmet a bit more.

While I was in the middle of this project, Steve asked me to join him for the Educators Evening at the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Otisfield, Maine. It felt completely relevant to my state of mind. The boys in the story I was illustrating had decided that, although they had different customs and beliefs, "Our prayers just take different paths."

If only their descendants could have been so open-minded.

Seeds of Peace was founded in 1993 to bring together youth from countries around the world in a state of conflict. Teens from Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and Jordan go through 3 weeks of intense workshops, facing ancient fears and hatreds with dialogue, activities, and when it's not raining, swimming in Pleasant Lake.

This is Annie O'Brien, who also attended the Educators Evening, at the gate.

It was a soggy camp when we arrived, nobody jumping in the lake.

Yet, when you gather 14 and 15 year-olds, the energy is high. Here they are busting out of dinner.

The rest of us gathered at the Delegation Center, where most of the session work takes place. Every country sends along Delegation Leaders, adult educators who work with Seeds of Peace facilitators to arrive at open communication models they can bring back, planting those seeds of peaceful respect in their classrooms and lives.

Marsha and Steve led the discussion, in which everyone in the large circle stated their country and their educating role. Then for short sessions, we all mingled and spoke to those with parallel areas of interest and/or experience. This was a heady moment: to be in exchange with so many people from all over the world in one room. I met Nadim from Pakistan, Drora from Israel, Fatmah from Egypt, and so many I could not spell their names. It was humbling and exhilarating all at once. My contribution was a lesson activity using zines as a vehicle for self-expression, a merger of visual and language arts to communicate a student's viewpoint in unexpected and revealing ways. I shared some student zines and talked about visual art as a medium that can sometimes go beyond the limits of language. Here's the mingling.

The whole room was wallpapered in big lists made during sessions.

What if we ALL kept this list front and center? To learn to be peacemakers and live with people we disagree with?

I came away from Seeds of Peace feeling like a new person, an ambassador for being human, wanting a peaceful world, and teaching others to get along. See where illustration takes me? I thought I was looking for photos of Jerusalem, and I wound up meeting people who live there.

I thank Cricket for publishing stories that illustrate friendship and understanding. And I thank Marsha and Steve for being ambassadors for peace, in their work and dedication.

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