Friday, September 25, 2009

sayonara summer

Much of the look of Seven Days of Daisy is based on realism, but simplified with cut paper, pastels, and indelible memories. In the illustration above, the girl is awed by fireflies while a ship sails silently past. That ship is the Scotia Prince, a ferry that made daily trips to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia for many years. It left it's dock in Portland every evening, from May through October, at 8 PM, and it's deep horn marked the twilight hour better than any clock.

It was such a magical sight, glittering on the water. I did this pastel a few years ago, a view from the bay side of the island.

The Scotia Prince ceased operation in Casco Bay several years ago. Now Portland is plied by much bigger, wider cruise lines.

As we headed backshore on the eve of the autumn equinox to mark the subtle but symbolic passing of summer, I caught sight of a ship leaving.

Ships are loaded with metaphor around passages, unknown horizons, and charting courses.

We took the occasion to light a lantern, watching it slowly drift downeast.

It held the same awe as finding fireflies. The light floated off beyond the clouds, full of our sunny summer moments.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

map of my day

On Thursday, I visited "Aggregate" at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, where the biennial of MFA graduates is on display. I was drawn to the work of Shannon Rankin, who has created amazing installations with dizzying bits of maps. I inspected the above piece for awhile, trying to discern if there might be a pattern in the locations, so delicately pinned to the wall like a specimen.

Also on exhibit is a series of large prints by Cole Caswell.

He gave a talk at Osher Hall that day, describing his methods and manifestations of understanding landscape. He brings a scientific approach, asking questions about where spheres of humanness overlap those of other species. He collects samples, photographs interiors, consults Google Earth, and looks for patterns in the resulting abstractions.

He began by locating spiders inhabiting the interior of his house on Peaks Island, then turned to circumnavigating the watersheds on the island, in search of some understanding of the beaver population's impact on the landscape. The shapes he documented were similar, driving more questions about the larger maps of meaning between the micro and the macro scales of life. Do colonies of beavers bear semblance to colonies of cities, or even mold?

He came upon the mold in his basement and scanned pieces of them, enlarging their scale to reflect his fascination with these mysteries of mutual permutation.

I thought here about Horton, Dr. Suess's elephant character, who believes a whole town can live on a speck. Cole's work invokes a childlike fascination, one in which anything is possible, seen or unseen. As an artist, he pursues photographic methods as a way of understanding the world, but always with wonderment.

From this, I went directly to my illustration majors class, where students brought in their final illustrations. The pieces ranged from childhood scenes of nightmare or fancy, to stage sets of surrealism, lyrically romantic collage, and mythical history.

Afterwards, I headed to Bonobo to meet colleague, Mary Anne Lloyd. We caught up on life, teaching, and raising daughters.

Then it was off to Space Gallery, for the premier of Typeface, a documentary film presented by TypeCulture and AIGA Maine.

Mary Anne and I went largely out of respect for Mark Jamra, associate professor at MECA in Graphic Design, and founder of TypeCulture. Mark was once the designated chair of the illustration department before it became official. We knew we'd be in a crowd of our own species, cohorts in the Media Collective at MECA, as well as any red-blooded fan of communication arts.

The film is a reverent look at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, WI, where vast quantities of wood type lay, sorted and unsorted, fondled with awe by visitors who come to witness the passing of an analog craft. There is great humor, irony, and sadness all at once, as retired craftsmen displaced by the digital age are juxtaposed with young designers impatient with the tedium of typesetting by hand, yet fascinated by the tactile nature of wood, luscious inks, and methodically clunking letterpresses.

In the audience, I spotted two local masters of this world, David Wolfe and Crystal Cawley, partners at Wolfe Editions in Portland. Both are educators and fine artists who practice their range of skills creating distinctive editions of art books, letterpress, and photography. David just won a swell grant from the Maine Arts Commission. Congratulations!

I've had the grand opportunity to take classes with both of them, in paste papers, book making, and chine colle. It's simply a treat to be in the midst of antique cabinets full of dingbats, to slide past inked presses, and absorb David and Crystal's rich expertise and passion for traditional methods.

I worked on this collage, made during a chine colle workshop at their studio, with papers layered using paste made by David from an ancient recipe, and punctuated by a single letter run through the press.

No matter how digitally empowered we may become, there remains an inherent delight in the tangible qualities of materials. Bravo to all artists who keep us aware of these connections in a changing world.

Monday, September 14, 2009

lupine land

My students are working on their first illustration project, Mixed Media Memory. It's pretty wide open to interpretation. I like to start out with an open mind and see just where they are at, what they are fixated with, dreaming about, or eager to share/show off, how they pull together their drawing skills with materials and techniques. When I gave this assignment to a previous class, there were some very revealing results. I worked then on an image, too.

This is my "Lupine Land."

I combined a variety of preoccupations at the time: a fantasy world not far from reality here, in which deer antlers can be found in the compost pile out back, one after the other. Did you know antlers are shed every season? Deer sightings remain a magical thing. At the time, I had just learned I won a Lupine Honor award for illustrating Rickshaw Girl. I collaged a gocco print of an alpana illustration from that book for the girl's dress. Hidden subtext, you see.

The Lupine Awards this year celebrated 20 years of annual presentations honoring the best in Maine literature for young people, thanks to the Youth Services Section of the Maine Library Association. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, was the inspiration for the award. As a young girl, Alice Rumphius loved the sea and through her travels wanted to make the world more beautiful. She scattered lupine seeds.

I'd never heard of the book until moving to Maine and receiving a copy of Miss Rumphius upon my daughter's birth. It's become a family classic in our house. With great reverence for Barbara Cooney's amazing work, I traveled to see an exhibit of her originals and sketches from four books at Bowdoin College Museum of Art last week, with my cohort in curiosity, Kirsten Cappy.

Her paintings are the same size as the reproductions, fabulous feats of narrative rendered with exquisite detail, painted on silk or percale in acrylic. Even though I know these images like the back of my hand, it's still breathtaking to see the real thing. And even better, her sketches and dummy books. This collage of palette studies reminded me of another great Maine illustrator, Melissa Sweet.

And oh! There, beneath the glass was an actual shell, the gift from the Bapa Raja in the story, one of my favorite scenes in any book. I love it when real objects take on storied proportions in another world!

Kirsten and I got away with sneaking a few photos but the polite guards caught up with us. No problemo: out comes the pencil. Here is Kirsten, sketching her own take on a relief sculpture of a winged figure from Iraq, circa 800 BC.

Barbara Cooney's attention to color and setting was just the shot I needed to complete a commission. I was asked to draw a house portrait by a neighbor on the back shore, to give to his wife for their 40th wedding anniversary. I love people who value art as a unique gift!

The house is antique, sitting on a cove amongst a grove of trees. I walk by it all the time, and took tons of surreptitious photos, this one at low tide.

But I wanted the ocean to be in the piece, since location is what it's all about. Here is the unframed pastel.

This piece was recently commissioned for a wedding gift, a view towards Great Diamond Island called "Duo."

And this was commissioned for a woman turning 80 who knows this beach well.

I could draw this view endlessly. I love the sturdy white house on stilts over the sea, punctuating the curve of the beach. I apparently sold this piece via the Gem Gallery to the owner of the house, Wally, but nobody here can remember his last name!

That's island living for you, first name basis.

Everything loops together. I recently sold this piece at the Gem, to a lady whose daughter attended the Horse Island Camp here. Coincidentally, the owner, Jeanann Alves, wrote Maddie's Magical Ride, my first picture book.

Little Joe, a most handsome guy, grazes at the field down the street from my house. I always enjoy encountering him with various riders. Here he is with Hallie on a recent foggy afternoon.

So in my land of lupines, I'm putting pigment and place together. They tell a certain story of what I love about Maine.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

back to school

The summer that wasn't has become the fall that will be brilliant. Whether you are going back to school or not, don't we all harbor a student inside us? A fondness or aversion to school, and also learning, lurks in the scent of ripe apples in the crisp air.

I was a student in mid-August for a watercolor workshop taught by Tory Tyler Millar at the Fifth Maine. Tory has taught at Portland High for 18 years, but finds new ways to introduce methods and materials by taking regular courses herself at places like Haystack. I find that being a student makes being a teacher more fresh, too.

Watercolor is something I avoid, having had a dismal watercolor class in art school. The teacher was rigid, and I hated what I painted. I decided it wasn't for me.

Tory broke down the various techniques into a sample board, handing out a large sheet of student grade watercolor paper which we taped off into six areas.

It didn't seem as daunting as I remembered it. Just let the water flow. Have patience, let it do what it does. It was a really hot day at the edge of the sea. The salt we sprinkled on for texture did not react the way Tory felt it should. The paper buckled in the humidity. We had to let some areas dry and move on to the next square. This is the result of a graded wash left to dry, then gone over with dry brush for the raking colors in the ocean waves, plus the islands.

Like a seascape memory, more evocative than the one I did outside later, looking at the ocean.

The Fifth Maine has an amazing view from a rocky ledge blooming with flowers. It almost didn't matter what I painted. Just lovely to be there.

This was a watercolor done around a masked area, the moon, taped off to create a stencil shape. After the purple sky dried, I went back in with the figure and trees.

It brought to mind many things. Red Riding Hood, naturally. But also a sudden awakening that I would be back in school soon. Teaching a junior/senior major studio course again at MECA. The last time I taught that course, a couple of years ago, was a lot of fun. The class was a talented group with lots of personality and sense of humor.

Can you tell from this photo of Liz and Dani sporting their new silkscreen designs?

Dani was an inspiration, in her motivation to get her work out there, trying her hand at a web comic, blogging, launching an etsy shop (stir crazy sushi), plus her plucky range of skills.

Here is a red cloak she made based on a classmate's illustration.

I'm happy to report that I have another great group this semester. Half the reason I am teaching is simply to share a classroom with students. If they can learn as much from me as I will from them, it will be divine.

Last week they brought in the sketchbooks they were given by Alex Rheault, illustration department chair, at the beginning of the summer. Here Joe unfurls his panoply of wide-eyed creatures that cascade across the folds.

Lori went whole hog, covering the book ends with fake fur, and illustrating the alphabet with happy species on one side, and coffee-stained (on purpose) biomes on the other.

I am SO jazzed by the level of talent, I need to go scan more of their work for the school site. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, my own student started seventh grade. I did this sketch of her while she was telling the story of the first day.

Highlight of math class: forming pairs and finding the answer to how many licks does it take to finish a dum-dum? What a great ice-breaker! Teaching is changing, for sure. Curiosity and experiential learning combine to make the classroom more relevant to students.

Note to self: keep it fresh.