Tuesday, December 20, 2011

let it snow

It's probably no coincidence that I am a winter girl. My father served in the ski troops in WWII and my mother met him in Aspen, learning to ski. They settled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where epic snowstorms were good for business, not reason for cancellations.

So here I am, craving SNOW.
Was it coincidence that it came on Saturday morning, as we prepared to head to Portland Stage Company to see The Snow Queen?

Some berry ornaments remain for the winter birds, but the dusting of snow didn't last. Yet, the magic was just beginning.

Anita Stewart and her team of merry makers have outdone themselves with this marvelous production!
Marty had a taste working a couple of days back stage, painting props, as the design team scrambled to pull together the ambitious show. He nudged me every time something came out that he painted.

The story sweeps seamlessly through multiple tales of the journey of a young girl in search of her friend under the spell of the Snow Queen. The sets, costumes, music, and performances are altogether stunning.

I am still transfixed. The costumes by Susan Thomas are still in my head, so I've sketched them. Patricia Buckley as the Snow Queen was commanding, and she showed sly comedic talents in her many other roles, too.

My other favorite character is Ba, played masterfully by Daniel Noel.

And the Robber Girl, whew, SHE was fierce. Played to the hilt by Sally Wood. I'd join her band any day.

Portland Stage always does a grand job of offering background material and context on the play.
Anita Stewart drew inspiration from many sources, and specifically from a book of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, richly illustrated by Ukrainian artist, Vladyslav Yerka.

I went looking for a curious book given to me awhile ago, Christine's Picture Book, a reproduction of a hand-made picture book by Hans Christian Andersen and Grandfather Drewsen. Andersen made several of these scrapbooks for various children of family friends, with pictures cut from the many periodicals gaining popularity at the time, for amusement and as prompts for story-telling.

The very first plate is from a theater program.

Imagine two grown men, sitting around cutting and collaging, and Andersen writing in little rhymes intended for the 3 year-old Christina, the granddaughter of his friend, Adolph Drewsen, a magistrate in Copenhagen during the mid 1800's.

This plate gets this description:

It is entirely in keeping with Andersen's feeling for the theatre that this book begins with the programme of an entertainment and a scene in the theatre. As a boy he sang in the chorus at the opera and studied at the Royal Theatre ballet school, and the stage continued to fascinate him all his life. He must have attended thousands of performances, yet was never successful as a playwright.

Hans, Anita has done you proud. I know your spirit is in the wings!

Although Andersen was not a painter, he was gifted as a visual creative. Love this crazy page. The good cheer of fellow man, one with a crown, the other with a trophy, shines.

Andersen was also famous for his paper crafts, and there are five included in the book. This one's my favorite.

The Snow Queen lifted us to extraordinary heights of fantasy and enchantment. We left Portland Stage in merry moods, and spied this holiday tradition that added to our delight.

Now I am finding magic everywhere. Look, a reindeer! We can ride to the Snow Queen's castle.

And you may not see him in this photo, but Ba is waiting for me behind this door, with his fur hat and antlers, and a glass of nog.

Snip, snap, snout, this story is out.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Just as the semester at Maine College of Art wraps up, a new year begins in our house. My baby peep can't possibly be FIFTEEN already?!! Birthdays here always begin with cake for breakfast, followed by handmade cards and a cute pile of gifts. Above is my collage card for the birthday girl.

Here is Daddy's:

The owl theme is due to our visit to Maine Audubon later that afternoon, for a fascinating presentation by Mark Wilson of Eyes on Owls.

He began with a slide show of his amazing photographs, talking about owls and their habitats and where he and his wife find them.

One by one, six owls were brought from their bird boxes. Smallest first, the Northern Saw Whet, so petite and cute.  He had a little monkey face!

Next was the Eastern Screech, a lovely rust color, and so calm.

If you're a fan of screeches, check out Screech Owl Designs.

The Spectacle owl looks studious, and with such graphic style.

Here the birthday girl tests out her new camera.

Mark's presentation was not only informative, but highly entertaining. He brought up kids to try imitating the hoot of each owl as it was introduced.

Here is the Barred Owl, who has the most dignified blink.

The Great Horned Owl demands your total attention and will win any stare down.

I recently borrowed a taxidermy horned owl from the Maine Audubon's collection for drawing.
My quick sketch doesn't do the bird justice.

The last owl to be presented, a Eurasian Eagle owl, was mesmerizing.

To be eye to eye with these noble birds was hypnotic. Thanks to Maine Audubon and Mark Wilson,
we ferried back to Peaks Island under a full moon, awestruck.

Time to party and make wishes!

The clear cold night called for celebration on the back shore.

Singing around a fire was a toasty finale. Happy birthday, dear daughter.

For me, back to the studio. I finally started final art for Here Comes the Humpbacks!

It helps my drawing to wear my new whale shirt, bought at the MECA Holiday Sale from former student Colleen Foley, of Second Bay Studio.

From owls to whales, nature blesses my day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

holiday blitz

Can it really be December already? It just doesn't feel cold enough. With my copies of A Warmer World  sitting on my desk, the mild weather feels eerily unnatural. Also tacked up nearby is a vintage postcard of ladies in swimsuits, which got me thinking about annual events like the Polar Plunge, when hearty types dash into the bay for charity. 

I'm not one of them, but I was inspired to create this for my holiday card this year, an Ice Harbor Holiday where people embrace the season's chill with frisky good cheer. I'll be addressing and mailing them this weekend, the old fashioned way, of course.

'Tis also the season for holiday theater, which we've enjoyed thanks to Portland Stage Company. Here are Marty's dynamic posters for their most recent productions, in which his strong design background informs his illustrations.

He was delighted to tour backstage for a closer view of the cool set for God of Carnage before the crew came to vacuum the tons of sand. Yes, the floor here is a sand box, for powerful reason.

Artistic director Anita Steward recruited Marty and my former student and MECA alum, Alysa Avery, to be nimble helpers in the frenzied dash to get The Snow Queen ready for today. Fun to see the drawings for the set designs.

Here's Alysa at work.

Can't wait to see this show, a marvelously fresh take on the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale.

Meanwhile, over at Maine College of Art, my current crop of students finished their illustrations for a set of monster cards. For the cover, I wanted to use this illustration done during class by Wyatt Barr.
He's been exploring watercolor and all it's accidental surprises.

Marty, with his superior design sense, helped pull it together, in a way I could not have.

The class has since done a couple of other projects and now, yes this very second, is scrambling to be ready for today's Holiday Sale.

Their last and most practical assignment is to create something to sell. The illustration department table will be just inside the Free Street entrance. Here's a sneak peek from class.

Ali McCahon has made very friendly fiends to wear.

Wyatt has hand sewn a series of blank books with original watercolor covers.

Bridget Dunigan has made Random Phantoms, curious little peeps to keep you company for the long nights ahead.

Cut paper maestro Zoe made a line of Santas from various cultures, for both cards and gift tags.

There's this and much more from my class of twelve intrepid elves. Come see!

The college's front window of the Porteous Building on Congress Street says it all: bring on the Joy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Here's a little thank you to my family, friends, and followers! I must've worked at Hallmark in a past life; I am so fond of making cards. If you haven't already gotten one of these in the mail, send your snail mail address.

I am grateful for all blessings, big and small, especially the folks in my various circles of life. May each of you have happy and safe travels today. Any journey whose destination is the welcome arms of loved ones is worth it. We normally travel on this day, but with no Nana destination, we are staying put. A relief given today's weather, but bittersweet nonetheless.

While I was (still) waiting on a response regarding sketches, I did a piece commissioned for a retirement gift. I am always thankful for clients who know original art makes a fitting gift for momentous occasions!

The client sent this, since my art would accompany the gift of a chair crafted in Maine.

The required elements of a Dickenson poem, the chair, a nest, and a robin needed to be integrated with a dedication. Whew! Lucky for me I like a challenge.

While drawing the Shaker chair, I decided to make time to see, and hopefully sketch, at the current exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, by all accounts a stunning display of Shaker craft.

I also recalled an illustration I did years ago, for the Boston Globe, of a chair and desk. It's a piece I framed and gave to my mother, and is now back in my possession. Something about the blank paper, the used tea bag, and the draped coat make for a certain melancholy. And maybe a bit about an absence, of a writer gone to check the tea pot, stalling in the face of that blank page. 

Oh how I know that feeling.

Right now, as the wind howls and the ice thickens, we await the delivery of a new couch. Furniture does not quite last a lifetime. The simple couch that was our first married purchase has more than reached the end of it's duty. Our daughter and dog will be upended, but at least I've documented their moments upon that couch.

Time now to bake, and ready for tomorrow.

I am thrilled to have my new copy of Balloons Over Broadway, by Melissa Sweet. Haven't seen her since June, when a crew of lady illustrators gathered to catch up in Portland, sharing our current projects at the time. You can see Annie O'Brien's mouth open in awe here, looking at the proofs that Melissa shared, for her story about Tony Sarg, puppet maker and creator of the balloons for Macy's parade.

We were all blown away, and knew this book would be a big hit. Indeed, it is! Watch the parade tomorrow and be glad, for the curious eye of Melissa to bring forth the wonders of how things came to be. Bravo!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

learning moments

I've never met a library I didn't like. When I arrived at the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine, I knew I was in for a marvelous time.

It was too good to be true: a model of a boat from Time of Wonder, by Robert McCloskey, begged to become the backdrop for a slide show of my illustrations for Ice Harbor Mittens, shown while author Robin Hansen read the book, to a small but appreciative audience.

Robin led an orienteering activity, in which pretend sailors could find little lobster trap clues throughout the room.

Her brother, Scott, shared some knot-tying techniques.

 The library is situated within a lovely park that includes a pond with a sculpture by William Zorach.

William and his wife Marguerite were pioneering modern artists who spent many years in Maine.
Their daughter, Dahlov Ipcar, is a renowned artist as well, still making art in her 90's.

A lively mural by Ipcar lines the children's room.

This is clearly a library that treasures the worlds of story books, and I found much to my delight. Look at these favorite characters waiting to be held while a leopard whispers a story.

There are child-sized cubbies for curling up, with a view of the magnificent Winter Street Center beyond.

This very still owl watches over everything.

I had just returned two mounts, one a great horned owl, to the Maine Audubon on my way to Bath. Did you know they have quite a collection of taxidermy that can be on loan, two items at a time, for a week? I brought the owl and a red fox into my class at Maine College of Art, for a session of nature studies.

Caitlin Alger (foreground drawing above) always brings personality to her illustration.

Ali McCahon (below) added some of the marine specimens from the science room to keep her fox company.

Bridget Dunigan added subtle watercolor to her ink drawing.

I lugged these critters back home, for a family drawing session.

Marty used the opportunity to draw in his Sketchbook Project.

Daisy drew a very cool owl. Hoot!

Here's my pastel rough of the very engaging fox.

I was sad to bring them back. Even though these animals are long gone, their spirits are very present.

How fitting that the advance copies of A Warmer World arrived! I enjoyed drawing animals for this book about how climate change affects wildlife.

 Let's hope this book engages young readers to honor the planet, and the habitats we share with all creatures.