Monday, October 31, 2011

dem bones

I'm in sort of a lull between deadlines, waiting on the green light for three projects. But no dull moments here. A recent lunch with Curious City at El Rayo got me in the mood. That place is so cheery, it makes my week. I brought home a candy skull to fuel the spirits.

Made me think of an illustration I did back in my collage days for Chris Hadden, designed for a promo for Spectrum. I was asked to interpret the phrase "dead on."

 I once lived in the Mission District of San Francisco, where there's a year round Mexican flavor.  With skulls on the brain, I've had an eye out for what's beneath the skin. Like, where do things begin?

I met Truly, a third grader who came to Down East's Fall into Books event at the Portland Public Library recently. I prompted her as she worked on her story of seven days, in the handy blank booklets I give to kids. They've got stories, I've got ears.

On Tuesday, Truly took a test. She drew a desk with lime green tennis balls on the legs. An eye for detail and truth, she has.

Meeting young artist/authors definitely goes beneath the skin, in a good way. If I can help them begin, swell.

The library is right at the center of Occupy Maine, in Monument Square.

You've gotta love the spirit of this movement, whatever your politics.

I went straight to Portland Stage Company to see The Morini Strad. How lovely: the paper stage set designed by executive and artistic director, Anita Stewart, who I'd just seen at the library. Seeing where the vision for a production begins is fascinating.

We had darn good seats: thank you very much, Portland Stage!

A few days later at Maine College of Art, illustration department chair Alex Rheault brought in a resident from Quimby Colony, the graphic novelist, Cody Pickrodt. He told the class he began in  illustration by doing the comic con circuit. "Know your ammo," he said.

My class had a feast of guests, when fellow professor Calef Brown visited with his latest work.
He showed brush and ink drawings that get his engine going, by moving out of small sketchbooks into big stuff.

Yes, the start of something big.

Directly following Calef, we all trooped off to a lecture by The Little Friends of Printmaking.
God, they are good. In typical fashion, I took notes. Became rather fixated on Melissa's luscious hair.

Seriously, I could draw her for days.

Among their tips for success is "do great work." We're tryin'.

After the talk, students swarmed around their vibrant and layered silkscreen posters. No drooling, please.

I didn't stick around for more. Had to get back to my island. I walked with my daughter, noticing the pool that's shown up again after so much rain.

This pond comes and goes with the weather, but provides regular inspiration in its transitory ripples.
Here is a pastel I did awhile ago, "Hallowed."

That little witch hasn't grown up too too much, thanks to good witches that mentor!

For frivolity at Russell French's studio, my skull thing showed up as pizza pie.

With our pumpkins lit, let All Hallow's Eve begin!

Monday, October 24, 2011

on the drawing trail

I drew this still life while waiting for Judy LaBrasca to join me last week at the Portland Museum of Art. Drawing is the best thing I know to create patience and awareness. It occupies and lightens the mood, anytime, anywhere. We sat in the newly renovated cafe and caught up. Judy was my first mentor at Maine College of Art when I began teaching there several years ago. She shared some of the sketchbooks she's made for her Narrative Sketchbook class in Continuing Studies. Lovely!

A couple of days later, I joined with another MECA colleague, Mary Anne Lloyd, who shared a batch of student works from a recent project in her Illustration 2 course. Bravo!

Mary Anne brought out her "nature box" and we drew with our daughters. A mighty fine way to pass a drizzly after school day. Thanks, Mary Anne!

Next up, I brought my class of MECA illustration students to Maine Audubon, where we found inspiration in the taxidermy on display.

Here's a very personable skunk by Ali.

Brittany drew the same fellow with high contrast and heft.

Bill drew this fowl that begs a caption.

Caitlin captured a certain mousy tension in this drawing.

Devin drew this porcupine, bristling with attitude.

Spenser drew a snowshoe hare and a puffin. 

Zoe found likenesses to draw. Here a hummingbird evokes a ballerina in flight.

I sketched a fox.

If only I had known these resources were so close to home last winter when I was working on this illustration for A Warmer World, due out in 2012 from Charlesbridge.

After two hours of staring at stuffed things, it was refreshing to scout out the landscape.

As long as I have a pencil, I'll follow the drawing trail. Thanks to Maine Audubon!

Friday, October 14, 2011

song of myself

I never take birthdays for granted, mine or anyone else's. As Mel Robbins said recently on Ted, the odds of our birth is a 1 in 400 trillion chance of fate. Now that I have passed safely into middle age, I seem to have more blessings than I can count. I'll start with the above, a handmade birthday card from my beloved, who so graphically captured my love of dots and red and ME.

I also got this original portrait from the inimitable Kathy Mahoney, who I miss terribly since she moved from New England.

I have quite a collection of portraits that capture certain pages of my life in indelible ways.

I did this one in a brush and ink class with Victor Johnson during my junior year at RISD.

 It was the first class in which I was encouraged to let loose.

Did this one senior year. Learning about light and form with charcoal, gouache, and pastel.

Trying to remember what a senior illustration major is thinking here, now that I am sharing a classroom with a dozen of them at Maine College of Art. I consider my role as a teacher an exchange of perspectives. I may possess more perspective, being older, but theirs is fresh. We can learn from each other.

They know I'm a big advocate of observational drawing, and we sometimes draw from the model. And when the model is missing, we draw each other. In this case, we threw in some props, like a cowboy hat, which adds a narrative of sorts. I'll model, too, to break the ice. This is Zoe's drawing of me.

Her classmate, Austin, observes something totally different.

 Found this blast from the past, by Paul Baldessari, done for Stuff Magazine in the early 80's.
Life was in the nail-biting fast lane then.

Flash forward to 2001, when I drew this sober look for the contributors page for Attache Magazine.

The good news is that the last 10 years have been pretty darn sweet.  I can still get excited about unwrapping a new box of Prismacolor pencils! And I am still illustrating, another blessing, of persistence in a fickle field.

I spent some of my birthday sketching for a project for Storey. These are a good warm-up for illustrations about cast on techniques. Feeling fuzzy already.

My daughter posed for this one, with a pair of antlers found near the compost pile a few years ago.

Today the weather is way too wet for mittens. But perfect for drawing inside, and counting blessings.

Friday, October 7, 2011

pop up printmaking in IL 421

MECA's senior illustration majors recently began a silkscreen assignment by visiting Emblem Studio, located in the nearby Artist Studio building on Congress Street in Portland. Front man Kris Johnsen was a MECA student once, too, and warmly welcomed my curious class into his work space lined with gig posters. He shared a bit of process, pointing out drawing layers for a recent print.

After talking and answering questions, Kris escorted us over to Space Gallery,  where the exhibit
"Pulled" gave the class plenty of inspiration. The show features silkscreen prints curated by Mike Perry, whose book of the same name, "Pulled: a Catalog of Screen Printing" made a great companion to bring back to the classroom.

I like introducing students to silkscreen because it forces a stronger graphic sense and a respect for old-fashioned making of multiples. They worked on ideas, showed sketches for critique, and two weeks later, Kris came to MECA and walked them through the photo emulsion process. While coated screens were drying in a dark closet, Zoe was ready to go with her cut stencil design.

 Here's one of her prints, drying.

The class was unable to use the printmaking facilities at MECA, since all the print majors meet at the same time as my class. Thanks to Lisa Pixley, we headed over to the Pickwick Independent Press, specifically to use the dark room for exposing the screens, now dry.

Kris demonstrated with Spenser's screen, talking about flooding the screen with ink, amount of pressure and speed when pulling the squeegee, and other tips.

Meanwhile, Caitlin dove into printing with her cut stencil design. It worked!

Kris showed a couple of students how to oil down their design, a quick and slick method of making a design transparent enough for exposing.

One by one, students brought their screen and design into the darkroom. This one is Brittany's.

The design and screen are sandwiched together in the dark room. After the light sensitive emulsion was exposed for seven minutes, the next step was washing out the emulsion.

The screens now had to dry, and students brought ink and paper to the next class. We met back at MECA in a drawing studio, making due with tables and clotheslines. Brittany began with black.

And she got the hang of it.

 Spenser and Bill teamed up for Bill's printing.

 Caitlin and Ali teamed up here.

Ali created a graphic ode to Breathless, in two colors, with nice registration.

Caitlin tried her design on a ribbed tank.

Michael made a bear with Finnish appeal.

Devin's shirt sported two colors with a Maine theme.

Once you have ink on a squeegee, it can wind up anywhere. Here is Austin, modeling an argyle look Devin made.

Spenser fancied the tie-dye look. Here is his Merlin design.

Some students found frustration: they had difficulties with emulsion, with making test prints that degraded, and using up ink on disasters. Nope, not as easy as it looks. But they came away with new skills, inky clothes, and perhaps more respect for analog printing.

MECA will be hosting The Little Friends of Printmaking in November, when the power of print will leap from the walls.

Thank you Maine College of Art, Kris Johnsen, and Pickwick!