Tuesday, March 27, 2012

on the Illustration 2 trail

My amazing troupe of sophomore illustration students at Maine College of Art are stretching their skills in many ways. Recently, they invented 3 dimensional characters drawn from fables and folklore. Here is a sculpy Baba Yaga in progress, made by Shannon Owen.

Now, she's dressed and ready for a good story by the fire.

Isaac Atkins decided his character needed a glossy coat.

Hana Firestone made resourceful use of paper and plastic for her Fox and the Crow.

Beware, Eric Wilbur's Hydra fiercely guards Casco Bay.

Molly Steinmetz's Leshy found his way to the woods in the Joanne Waxman Library, ready to tickle to death the unsuspecting reader.

The class also spent some time drawing in the library, working from the wonderful resources in the collection while also making linear collages.

One signature of any illustration class at MECA is getting out and about for inspiration. We also drew at the Faces show at the Portland Museum of Art. This is Chelsea Canny's sketch, can you recognize the photograph?

This tied in with an assignment: to do a life-size self portrait. Chris Snowman drew his on a tablet and blew it up.

Isaac did his on very large paper with charcoal, graphite, and some pastel.

Morgan Cremin's got torn in transit, but she liked the result. Here's a close-up of the face.

Lucas Greco cut a stencil and used a spray paint called Venom.

For our latest project, Secret Lives of the Cryptids, we headed to the infamous International Cryptozoology Museum, conveniently located within walking distance from the college.

It's a rare collection of taxidermy, samples, art, toys, products, and the peculiar culture surrounding the unknown beasts we have yet to capture. Always sketching on the trail of observation, the class found a friend. The robot below is by former student and MECA alum, Joe Rosshirt.

I have to sketch, too! I drew Big Foot, the silent and wooly sentry for the museum.

There are skulls,  models, toys. This ape had that debonair stroll.

Morgan drew this. Could it be... a jackalope?

No wonder speculation abounds. Is this an alien mermaid or a shriveled sting ray?

Molly has a sense of humor about it all.

Another former student, Sarah McCann, created a soft sculpture giant squid that hangs proudly in the museum, along with her finger puppet creations, like this chupacabra I bought.

Indeed, MECA illustration talent gets around. I recently had coffee with another alum, Thomas Dowling who showed me this sculpy head he'd been working on.

Just days later, he turned out to be just what Portland Stage was looking for when they needed an important prop. Tom sculpted a hound with a chain saw. Take that!

I'll be applauding from my seat this Sunday when we see Heroes: for the play, for Tom's talent, and for all the greatness that MECA illustration students perform all the time.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

bequeathing books

There's been a harmonic convergence of vintage books coming into my possession lately. Perhaps it's the advent of e-books, or the passing of an era, or the legacies that books can bestow that explain this phenomenon. Nobody wants to just throw away a good book.

Here are some old books that have lovingly exchanged hands recently.

Kirsten Cappy threw a little mid-week frolic at Curious City around a musty box she received from a beloved professor in need of letting go her collection of children's books. Fruit, nuts, and a zesty zin rounded out the occasion.

Mary Anne Lloyd found many treasured favorites from her own childhood.

The time tick tocked away as we browsed old and new, such as this surprising take on  Virginia Wolf.

 I went home with this sturdy stack of vintage titles, each one striking a chord in my heart. 
Thank you, Kirsten!

A couple of days later, I traveled to Ossipee Lake in NH to visit my 90-year old Uncle Rolie. He lives down a dirt road, but you can't miss his driveway.

I've always enjoyed this owl he painted in the entryway. That's a real squirrel tail sticking out.

He was in a mood to pass on some stuff. He worked as a Commercial Artist in Boston and for many years in the Drafting Department at Western Electric. Maybe no coincidence I have a thing for vintage instruction books, lettering, stock photography.

Awhile ago he gave me his set of books from a correspondence course called "Famous Artists Course" through the Institute of Commercial Art in Westport, CT. Their motto from 1952 still holds true today.

There are 4 volumes of very specific lessons and explicit instructions. I once thought it would be fun to try a few on my students, but have not yet. Copying has kinda gone out of style, but it still has value for practicing technique. 

Here's a sample, with Rolie's drawing on the right. 

Meanwhile, I received from a distant friend, Dan, a batch of goods that belonged to an elderly neighbor. Peg Keenan had no relatives and he couldn't bear to simply toss a certain leather hat box of travel slides and souvenirs. My love of vintage photo albums is well-known to my circle. Yep, this came to the right place.

On the same day, I received my blank sketchbook from the Sketchbook Project. Yay! My chosen theme is Pictures and Descriptions, so it seemed like a natural fit to draw from some of these old photos, which I find captivating.

This is Peg on her Communion Day, I am guessing. 1934.

I'm calling this series Not My Memories. It will be a good exercise in inventing a back story from a few vestiges from another time and place.

Lord knows I have lots of material to work with!

The next day I signed books at the Charlesbridge booth at the New England Products Trade Show in Portland. What fun! I met so many nice folks. The topper was meeting the amazing illustrator/author David McPhail!

What a bounty of bookish wealth that has come my way this week. Now it's back to the classroom, where my students are drawing up a storm.

More to come on that soon!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

suessian school visits

Thank you, Dr. Suess, for your brilliant birthday and Read Across America. In your honor, I was invited to two schools to read and draw on March 2. First stop was right down the street, to the Peaks Island School, where I was greeted by the cheery principal, Cindy Nilsen, sporting her Suessian best.

I met with 4 classes during the morning, each as eager and energetic as the next. We began by singing happy birthday to Dr. Seuss and then I read one of my favorite stories, Yertle the Turtle.

This parable about a bossy turtle never goes out of style, and ends with the line that all creatures should be free. This lead to reading a poem from Nest, Nook & Cranny about the mouse in the house. Plenty of island homes have hosted these critters, and in mine we have gently brought them to new fields on the back shore, where they can be even..freer, we hope.

I talked a bit about being an illustrator, using models for reference, and drawing from life. I strongly believe in the powers of observation. Pausing for even a few minutes to really look at something is an important act of authentic discovery.

Each student then drew a small life-like animal toy from a bag. I gave a quick demonstration of finding the shape of an object, using simple shapes to begin a sketch.

I made a big sketchy sketch for them, starting with the bear's pear shape from a side view.

Believe it or not, I used a little polar bear for my jacket design sketches for A Warmer World.
That little toy came in handy for finding a variety of compositions from different points of view.

The biggest surprise here is that illustrators do LOTS of sketches. It takes many drawings sometimes to get the right look. I asked them to sharpen their eyes and their pencils.

They dove in with gusto. Here is Noah's drawing, who not only drew the polar bear, but gave him a wonderful habitat.

Maisy drew a lyrical setting for her deer.

Here's a girl like me who loves black and white!

Zeke had time to draw a shark and then write a poem that began with "a shining shimmering shark slooming through the night." Loved his invented word, very Seussian indeed!

This young artist redrew the animal to create a sunny scene. Bravo!

In the blink of an eye, it was time to pack up pastels and paper and head to the ferry. Thanks, Peaks Island School! You're awesome artists, every one.

I crossed Casco Bay and was warmly welcomed to Nancy March's 4th grade class at Yarmouth Elementary School.

Her lively class asked great questions and made their drawings with incredible focus.

This artist also drew a penguin, big and bold as can be.

Love the line quality and expression here:

Artists make visual decisions intuitively all the time: what to leave out, what to put in, emphasis, mark-making, detail. This artist focused on the face, and big, too.

This artist is drawing the subject many times, examining the symmetry and pattern.

Visual awareness is a skill put to task in many areas other than art. I just began reading a fascinating book, Field Notes on Science and Nature, in which Jenny Keller writes:

From Da Vinci to Darwin, drawing has a long and illustrious history as a means of scientific investigation and communication. Although technological innovations have provided powerful new tools for documenting information, all field scientists can benefit from understanding how to think visually and can use simple drawing techniques to improve the way they document their corner of the world.

Have pencils, will SEE!

Here the artist drew just about actual size, but completely changed the scale by adding the rock as a perch. I encourage illustration students to do precisely this: draw with observation and imagination.

Here's another inversion of scale in this coincidental pair of elephants. Najee happened to get an elephant, and drew it about the same size as an elephant that appears on a book he's reading.
I happen to know the author, another coincidence.

I like how his drawn elephant is facing the book cover's elephant. Maybe they will meet in another story, yet to be written.

I was delighted to receive written comments via the teacher a few days later. 

Najee wrote:

“I like your demonstrations on how to draw animals.  When you told me I was doing a good job, it gave me more energy and potential to put a lot of effort into my drawing.”

Ellie wrote:

"Jamie, I like it when you showed us your original drawings for your book about Polar Bears and Butterflies.  I was interested when you told us the process of a published book.  I never knew that it took soooo long for the book to get illustrated.  I enjoyed drawing and trying out some of your ideas.  That made me feel like an illustrator myself.”


It's gratifying to learn that Lauren got a model to pose for her, a very common tactic of mine, as my family will attest. She wrote:

“I loved the way you showed us all your different illustrations.  After I got home I asked my dad to pose for me.  I was inspired by your drawings and now I understand how much it takes to draw a picture.”

Thanks, Yarmouth Elementary for inviting me into your classroom so full of curiosity and cool artists. 

Everybody get ready to sharpen their eyes and their pencils. Oh, the places you will go!

And if you're a fan of animals and the planet we share, flick off your lights at 8:30 PM
on March 31 during World Wildlife Fund's Earth Hour.

It's an invitation to change your world.