Ireland adventures: Cork to Dublin

Posted by on Jun 11, 2017 in drawing, Illustration, travels | 2 comments

We headed to Cork on June 2, driving back up the Dingle peninsula about 40 miles to Tralee. While at the Dingle Library, I’d read an essay about the Two Paps, a pair of mountains which, upon seeing them, the writer felt nourished by. I kept looking for them as the landscape, quilted in greens, rolled by.


Every so often we’d ride through a town, where the ancient hugs the modern.


We took an hour’s detour down to Kenmare, so I could pick up a cashmere sweater for Grace, the only person to request I bring something very specific back. It was the quickest of stops; Marty wasn’t keen on driving a mile further than necessary. We got turned around upon leaving and made an accidental detour that included a stop while a couple let some sheep out of their truck. Traffic jam, Irish style.

We arrived in Cork City late in the day.


Our lodging, the Crawford House, lacked the charms of a stone cottage, but was conveniently located near plenty of pubs and restaurants so we walked everywhere.


We’d heard Cork was famous for it’s food, and we tried two restaurants that were all booked, and wound up in a noisy pub, James St. 1767. Let me just say, you can’t go wrong in Ireland. No matter where you land, the folks are friendly and they mean their Cead Mile Failte when they say it. Once the Guinness arrives, it’s all good. We moved over to the bar after dinner to hear the live music, but it was not a trad session. Four excellent guitarists with a mediocre vocalist and a string-less green guitar enshrined nearby entertained us for a bit.


The next morning while Daisy slept, Marty and I set out in search of breakfast. We found Oh My Donut! and knew the whole day would be sweet, no matter what.


We ambled across the River Lee into the gates of University College Cork.


The Glucksman Gallery is a startling piece of architecture near the entrance of campus.


Our first encounter was in the foyer, an installation by Women living in Direct Provision. That is, immigrants who are held waiting for the correct papers, marking their days of limbo in stitches and henna on their hands. Eye opening.


Art always provides a moment apart, an encounter that suspends time while triggering so many associations beyond the visual. As a family, we tend to look solo, at our own pace, and discuss our impressions later. The next floor’s exhibit was Enter Stage Left, with “work by artists whose practice delves into realms of stage craft.”

Whatever that means, the colors by Lothar Gotz hit me like a brick, in a good way.


Watched an informative short film that showed Gareth Kennedy carving this mask.


There was an excellent show of drawings, Set in Time, from the collection of Serge Lifar, no photographs allowed there. But we swooned over Picasso’s line work, Cocteau, di Chirico, and many more. On the next floor there was a curious installation of props that featured many penises and vaginas, and I can’t remember the artist. It seemed to involve Wagnerian themes and sex rites. Daisy found it very “art school.”


We moved on to browsing at Relics and Records and Time Travelers Book Shop. Nothing bought, but much gained in the looking. We headed south to Kinsale, a town stacked by the sea not unlike Sausalito, in a way.


As we parked on a hill, I encountered bride spotting, a spectator sport of mine that comes from living on Peaks Island, where one can easily bump into a bridal photo opp without going out of one’s way. Here I just missed the bride, but heard the squeals that came from her dress blowing up and giving everyone a good view before she collapsed into the car. It was a blustery day.


I spotted another while rounding the five star points.


Charles Fort is the site of historic battles that settled the score between Ireland and Britain. A couple of buildings are intact and offer informative displays, while the rest is crumbling with age.


The wee lighthouse and commanding views made for a lovely walk into the winds.


Once in the center of town, we roamed about considering where to eat.


We happily landed here for a fine meal and excellent service.


We missed the rain during dinner, but found a rainbow before returning to Cork. Sorry, no leprechauns.


The next morning we turned in our rental car at the Cork Airport, much to Marty’s relief. You can get used to driving on the left, but locals drive so much faster, it gets exhausting. We took our first bus back into Cork, delighted by the logo.


The walk from the bus to the train station got our hearts pumping.


Once on the train, we became drowsy with the rocking of the cars and the bucolic scenes blurring past.



Upon arrival in Dublin, we took a tram two stops to our hotel overlooking Smithfield Square. Best surprise: a balcony!


We hung out for awhile people watching, some who were doing the same.


We crossed the River Liffey to Ned O’Shea’s for a fine meal of Irish stew and the sound of musicians in the next room. Is this not beautiful?


We encountered great street art.


This was at one end of Smithfield Square which we could see from our room.


It turned out that Monday, June 5, was a bank holiday and our intended destinations were closed. We decided to walk to them anyway, and take in the Dublin air.


Dublin Castle is a sight to behold. Built in the thirteenth century on the site of a Viking settlement, it is covered in stone busts.


Was this a queen forever fated to stare longingly?


Maybe at this melancholy bishop with the best of beards?


I loved the cacophony of signage.


A pity we didn’t see this sign lit up at night.


We found the gates of Trinity College.


Lo and behold, the line for viewing the Book of Kells was OPEN and like, nothing! We stumbled upon the most exquisite exhibit design, like petals of a flower, so that the flock of viewers flowed organically amid the fascinating displays before going in to see The Book. No photographs, of course. But once in Long Hall, where you go, dazed from the intricacy of what you have seen, towering stacks of antique books surround you with their sage presence.


We revere these places, yet our modern libraries are dwindling. It was gratifying to find an illustration in the displays, this from Gulliver’s Travels, next to a death mask of Jonathan Swift.


Another great mural just inside the gates.


We walked back to the hotel getting properly soaked like everyone else.


We opted to dine at the hotel that night while our clothes were draped about the room. We awoke to a baffling photo shoot taking place below.


Fortified by sunshine on our last day in Dublin, we marched across the Liffey.


First stop: Oifig an Poist. Have you gotten your postcard?


Even the graffiti is green.


Next stop, the Chester Beatty Library, home of an astounding breadth of book arts and collections of artistic treasures from around the world. It killed me that there was no photography allowed. There were Durer wood block prints, bejeweled bindings, Islamic art, one dazzling object after another. We took a littler breather before entering the show of Japanese surimono prints, where there was a bench! I began my only sketch in Dublin there.


We enjoyed a tasty lunch in the cafe before walking to Kilmainham. There’s a Viking vibe all around the city.


We passed the home of Arthur Guinness, but didn’t stop for the acclaimed tour.


I was eagerly anticipating the best for last, meeting my Irish penpal for the first time! We set our rendezvous at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

This installation greeted us, and reminded me of collections seen at the International Folk Art Museum.



I gravitate to art with hands and eyes. Not so much feet, but there was another sculpture in the gardens that seemed related, like doll parts. This is by Janet Mullarney, titled Byzantine.


I honestly didn’t see anything else. Once Mirjam arrived, we found a quiet bench to get acquainted. We connected on Instagram via our mutual love of mail art and stamp collecting. What a gift to finally meet up!!!


We have plenty in common, being moms, artists, and educators. But time was up much too fast. Letters will keep us connected til the next meeting. Thank you, Mirjam!

Marty and Daisy wanted to linger in the heavenly gardens. This would be a major drawing spot if I lived in Dublin.



Our walk back to the hotel took us into the face of rush hour, but we saw more street art to slow us down.



We crossed the square to dine at Sparks Bistro, where they do NOT serve Guinness. They serve great wines, and we had an amazing meal. Our last stop was a nearby pub, recommended by local illustrator, Steve Simpson. Thanks for that, Steve, Cobblestones was the best way to complete our visit! The rollicking trad session made it SO hard to leave.


The moon was nearly full in the square.


Guess what? I’m not waiting another 37 years to go back to Ireland. No doubt our visit will be well savored in the meantime.


Get thee to Ireland and see for yourself!





Adventures in Ireland

Posted by on Jun 10, 2017 in drawing, Illustration, pastels, travels | 12 comments

Ever since a brief visit to Ireland in 1980, I have yearned to go back. Somehow, the years piled up until recently, when Marty, Daisy and I enjoyed two weeks of travels there. On May 22, we flew to Shannon Airport, during which the dusk to dawn was sped up, like a time lapse into the next day. We landed at 6 AM, sleepless, and rented a diesel powered Renault in which Marty bravely took the wheel to find our first lodging.

The Carrygerry House is a mere 15 minute drive from the airport but felt far away in another time, situated above rolling fields.


The inn’s pastoral views relaxed us even more.


The gracious owner let us in quietly, wearing her bathrobe and showing us to our room at 7 AM. We completely missed breakfast with jet lag taking it’s toll. We woke in time to head over to Bunratty Castle in the afternoon. Our tour guide rambled through a few centuries of Irish history while we marveled at the art and embellishment everywhere. And those giant antlers? Irish deer were once enormous.


We climbed up and up and up narrow circles of stairs past windows like these. Built around 1425, the castle was a stronghold of the O’Brien clan, and later kings and earls.


This stain glass collage is my favorite.


Certain rooms brought to mind the splendor of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, with majestic halls filled with ornate carvings, enormous tapestries, and paintings of royalty. But this was her inspiration.


We made it to the top tower for views of the River Shannon, breathless.


While Marty and Daisy descended to the dungeon, I sat outside to sketch the castle.


We strolled through the adjacent Folk Park, were cottages from a century ago were reconstructed. The fragrance of peat fires was everywhere.


We tried to learn a bit of Gaelic at the school, but failed. The teacher was on his way out but promised to find a match for Daisy if she came back the next day.


The fairy village was not on the map, but we found it nonetheless.


There were goats trotting about, pigs, cows, and donkeys grazing on all sides. These carts were typical vehicles of travelers at the time.


We returned to the inn for a gourmet dinner, watching horses prance in the field.


On May 24, we headed to Dunquin, a seaside village on the Dingle peninsula. The highway out of Shannon turned into smaller and smaller roads which passed through village centers and miles of grazing livestock. We stopped in Abbeyfeale and Keel just to get out of the car. From here, Inch Strand, our travels were in view of Dingle Bay.


We arrived at Chris and Nan Hadden’s Dunquin Cottage, our home for the next nine days.


We set out to explore the area, blooming with iris and sheep.


Relics of old homesteads are not uncommon.


We discovered the path to the ferry pier to Great Blasket Island.


The cottage is in the center of this photo, beneath Eagle Mountain blanketed in fog.


After a dinner of beer and toasties at Kruger’s Pub, our loft bed was a welcome sight.


Chris had advised us: the first sunny day you get, go to Great Blasket Island. We awoke to clear skies on our first morning, so off we went. You are taken out to the boat in groups of eight, there’s not much of a pier.


Islanders always happy going offshore!


The ride is about 25 minutes, and you are transferred once again to the concrete pier.


We learned that Great Blasket was inhabited for about three hundred years, perhaps first by Vikings. Emigration and the hardships of an isolated community led the Irish government to evacuate the remaining islanders in 1953.


Marty and Daisy decided to hike up to the top, while I headed down to the beach, where it’s full of bobbing sea lions, curious as ever.


This made Daisy just a little happy.


We hiked back to the pier for the last boat to the mainland, and walked back to the cottage.


A similar cottage is right next door, owned by a man with many cats.


The solarium in our cottage was always warm, a good spot to spy on cats and sketch.


We’d flop about a bit before deciding our next outing.


We ventured into Dingle, a 20 minute drive over narrow roads. We dined at John Benny’s but learned there was no music. Down the street at Paudie’s Bar we happened upon Peter Staunton on button accordion and Niamh Varian-Barry on fiddle, an outstanding duo. Their music made our hearts sing.


Every morning this cheerful kitchen greeted us. We’d linger over toast with homemade jams from the Carrygerry House, and figure out our plan.


Once the Dreamer climbed down from her loft, we’d be ready to roll.


We took the short cut to the Blasket Center.


We learned history about the islanders, their way of life, and their literary legacies. Scholars had visited in the early years of the 20th century to collect folklore and learn the Irish language. Marty began reading The Islandman by Tomas O Criomhthain and I began reading Twenty Years A-Growing by Muiris O Suilleabhain.

The short films, displays and artifacts of a vanished life were fascinating.


The island was plentiful in rabbits. I sketched this from a taxidermy display.


The cottage’s window seat was my favorite perch, where I drew or wrote every day.


I sat out in the field behind the cottage to draw the view of Inis Tuaisceart in pastel, an island that looks like a floating giant.


We set out on one of the hiking loops from the center that led to An Mionnan Mor.


The Inis was ever present from every angle.


We passed so many sheep. Had to draw a lamb with it’s markings.


We stopped at another fine beach, testing the water. Most beaches had warning signs about the strong currents.


Being Saturday night, there was a concert at the Siopa Ceoil, where we enjoyed traditional music with an Irish coffee break in the middle. The atmosphere alone is worth it.


This is 9:30 in Dingle. Colorful and hardly dark.


The drive over the mountain to Dunquin was never disappointing.


In the morning I did a sketch of the cottage sitting on the stone wall across the narrow road, and met the neighbor, Chris, with his dog.


We decided to trek another loop from the Blasket Center, one that took us over stiles that separated fields of livestock.


We made it to the top of Ceann Sraithe with a view of Ballyferriter and Ceann Sibeal behind us.


Back at the cottage we chilled, wrote postcards, and Daisy drew this, our neighbor’s window.


The cats were indeed curious about us.


Too tired for a drive to Dingle, we found a seaside pub with excellent smoked fish and chips in Ballydavid, the Tigh T.P.

On Monday we found the post office in Dingle, bought some groceries, and had a delicious lunch at Goat Street Social. I am a complete sucker for animal signage.


More window seat moments drinking in the late sun….


On May 30, clouds had finally lifted on Eagle Mountain, and we’d found the trail head, our legs were ready.


We climbed up the steep slope, our cottage always in view.  A family of sheep crossed our path just before we stopped for a picnic.


By the time we reached the top, the clouds were settling in again. Kissed by the mist, we headed back down.


While it was still fresh, I did a pastel sketch at the cottage table, with Great Blasket in the distance.


We took a different route into Dingle along Slea Head Drive, which is crazy narrow but spectacular. In general, the driving in Ireland terrified me. I only got behind the wheel once, and otherwise Marty got us places, with me hitting the imaginary brakes on my side, only a bit of screaming.


We visited the Celtic Prehistoric Museum, a unique private collection from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Viking antiquities.  From a huge woolly mammoth skull to goddess figurines, this place seemed liked it could stand some public funding.



We continued into Dingle to browse at the local library, always a welcome respite.


We lingered in the local music store, and visited St. Mary’s where we discovered a lovely labyrinth to walk.


We dined at Fenton’s where I ordered my first Irish lobster.


We caught the airs of music outside O’Flaherty’s pub, too late to go in and drink but safely drive over the mountain. Yet look how light it remains.


The next day, I needed a break in the action. I drew, which brings calm and restoration.


Later we visited the Blasket Center again, just for their splendid tuna melts. We met a lady from Mallow on one of the bus tours that stop there. I took a solo jaunt to the rocky beach nearby and did a quick pastel of craggy rocks.


We headed to Ballyferriter for a second visit to Murphy’s Bar, where the mussels are beyond compare. We detoured in search of some evidence of the town’s claim to Star Wars fame. Apparently the Jedi fortress in the recent film was constructed on the far side of Ceann Sibeal. Instead, we came across this monument at Fort del Oro, a marker of a battle past.


Our last full day in Dunquin was our first rainy one. We headed to Famine Farm, bearing a resemblance to our own cottage with it’s red trim.


We met Gabriel Kavanagh, a farmer who now gives sheepdog demonstrations.


He put his two dogs through their paces, and it is a sight to behold a flock of sheep galloping in unison.


This sheepdog is still learning at a year and a half, but happy with his job.


There are startling mannequins that give a creepy edge to the period installations inside the cottages, where more history is on display.


We left with a signed copy of Famine in Ireland and West Kerry, a detailed history of dark times.

This is where you say your prayers on Slea Head Drive.


We spent the rainy afternoon drawing and reading. There were objects around the cottage that captivated me. The neighbor had told me there was a fire ages ago, back when the animals slept inside cottages for central heating and people slept up in lofts. I drew two skulls I found on a windowsill.



Marty joined me while I drew a taxidermy squirrel I found on a shelf.


He christened a guest book we left. Reading the two full ones there was a major source of amusement and information.


We went back to Dingle for dinner, and were delighted to hear this duo again!


With great reluctance, we packed up the next morning. The day was brilliant making it doubly difficult to depart. We walked once more down to the Blasket pier after turning in the cottage keys to the caretakers.


Dunquin, we shall miss thee! We were off to Cork, but that’s another story. Stay tuned for more.















Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Illustration, Portland Stage Company | 2 comments

When I read the script last year for Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, it leapt off the page. This play is his first, and he’s the first Muslim playwright to win a Pulitzer. The story begins in Amir and Emily’s posh apartment on the Upper West Side in NYC, where issues of identity, race, religion, and culture clash in unforgettable drama.

The play begins with Emily sketching Amir, inspired by Velazquez’s Portrait of Juan de Peraja.


It played into my first sketch for the poster.


Amir has renounced the religion of his birth, Islam, and diligently climbed the ladder at a law firm. I made him the central figure in many of my sketches, and used Islamic patterns for a focal point.



In one scene, the dinner party shares a celebratory toast. It unravels from there.



I tried a bit of mystery with this one.


Much like Emily, Amir’s painter wife, I fell in love with Islamic patterns as I researched my visual frontier for this poster.


I kept trying to draw them. So much beauty in the organization, but challenging to get the order of it.




Portland Stage chose the sketch with the four actors raising their glasses. But they wanted some of the patterns coming into the image. I revised that sketch.


I asked my neighbors, the Moxhays, to come over and pose for me. They happily obliged.

Marty became Amir, Olwyn became Emily, Peter became Isaac, and Katheryn became Jory. This was the illustration in progress.


I added the patterns digitally over the pastel for the final illustration.


I brought Marty and the Moxhays to see the play last night. It’s always a treat to see how Portland Stage has given life to the setting. The set design by Anita Stewart is stunning. The lighting design by Cecilia Durbin was spectacular; the exterior cityscape changing from day to night was gorgeously achieved.


Director Christopher Grabowski managed a nimble cast for an incredibly tight show. Alex Purcell gave an intense performance of his complex and conflicted character, Amir. Wow. This is a play that must be seen to be believed, and it is very believable, yet everything is unexpected. Thanks to Portland Stage for producing works that cause us to question, have more conversations, and look deeper. This is the last weekend to go. GO.

They will take a little summer breather until their next production, All Night Strut. Marty posed with his poster yesterday. Looks like fun!



MECA Fashion 2017

Posted by on May 12, 2017 in drawing, fashion illustration, Illustration, Maine College of Art | 2 comments

May has been a complete mash-up of amazing events. I’m behind in all my documentation, but eager to share the wonders of Maine College of Art’s 5th Annual Fashion Show on May 4. Illustration Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd was my date, and we enjoyed chatting with Textile and Fashion Design Adjunct Professor Jill McGowen before the show. The event took place in the ICA Gallery where Director of Exhibitions and Special Projects Erin Hutton rounded up the best crew with her signature magic.

Program Coordinator for Continuing Studies Louise Tuski was the MC for the first fashion show in April of 2013, when the TFD department was a little sprout. Here she is (on the left) with the current Chair of the program, Betsy Scheintaub.


Development Officer Dietlind Vander Schaaf was this year’s MC, herself a frequent model for South Street Linen.


The show began with model Linda Holtslander wearing a knit fiber dress with impossibly long sleeves, designed by Grace Foxen. I made sketches of some of my favorites….and this piece just looked downright cozy. Plus RED.


Leave it to MECA students to be fresh, creating eye-catching accessories like this adornment by Cassie Groover.


Mary Anne and I were delighted to spy a couple of our illustration students as models. Here is Veronica Jones, wearing a gorgeous dress by Anna Morse, her roommate.


Here is Kat Harris, stunning in another dress by Anna Morse.


This model was in disguise until we realized it was none other than Photography major Kat Miller, rocking a felted suit by Allison West.


I had seen Ariana Faria’s thesis presentation the week before, in which she shared the process for her line that focused on leather corsets in a new way. Her inspirations from a semester in Florence were fascinating.


Spectacular to see them all together!


I loved this piece by Justin Desper.


He also had a line with futuristic shapes called Daedalus or Viri et Machina.


There were 70 models and so many fabulous pieces, it was a blur of color and form. Fun to mingle with models afterwards.


Congratulations to all the designers and models! Bravo!!!


You can see some of these garments on display in Congregate, the 2017 BFA Thesis Exhibition on view through May 20. Be sure to check out our Illustration seniors, too. I head to the State Theater tomorrow for commencement. So proud of all of them!


Tillie Time

Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration | 0 comments

I recently illustrated the cover of Mary Atkinson’s second middle grade novel, Tillie Heart and Soul, that just earned a starred review from Kirkus!

As soon as I heard that Tillie was a roller skater, I was into it. After reading the manuscript, I began a little page of doodles.


Then I began doing my homework for visual research on skater culture. And did more sketches. Tillie is a fifth grade girl living with her Uncle Fred. She’s an awkward but tough kid, and gets her share of scrapes.


I wanted to show energy here, with hair and limbs flying out of the image frame.


A new girl arrives and Tillie’s so-called best friend seems to ditch her for totally cool Gloria.


Here Tillie’s coming right at the viewer, fiercely determined.


I tried eliminating the need to define Tillie’s features by just showing her skates, heading pell-mell out of the image.


Here she’s skating past the piano factory where she lives in a loft with Fred, a painter. I keep sticking with the striped socks!


I tried Tillie looking at the viewer, unsure, as the two other girls skate away. The whole composition is off balance, suggesting the dynamic in her life.


Mary liked Tillie skating at the viewer, so I refined my sketch and put in some type for placement, as well as the piano factory in the background.


I added some color.


Mary wanted Tillie to look “kind of like” Punky Brewster, which threw me off for awhile. I did a weekend of sketches of just Tillie’s face, trying to capture the right expression and attitude. Finally, we landed on this.


And now they are published! There is nothing like a box of brand new books.


photo by Mary Atkinson

Join Mary this Saturday at Print: A Bookstore when she celebrates the launch of her book, from 3 – 4 PM!


String Around My Finger

Posted by on Apr 21, 2017 in Illustration, pastels, Portland Stage Company | 4 comments

Over a year ago, I read the script for Brenda Wither’s play, String Around My Finger, now in it’s final run at Portland Stage Company. As someone who has suffered infant loss, the comedic tone seemed too light then. The aftermath of such an event is devastating, confusing, and heavy. In the play, Emma’s had a miscarriage, and everyone else is ignoring her trauma, trying to keep up good cheer while navigating realities.

To tackle illustrating this, my initial ideas played with the literal visual of a string around a finger. The first was a baby hand that looms over small figures, the string swirling around a couple.


I tried a woman’s hand, with a hospital bracelet, and a group of small figures, the various characters who orbit around Emma.


The miscarriage, the medical bills, and other pressures begin to unravel the couple’s plans. I tried two figures pulling at the string of one large hand.


I tried a hospital bed, with an IV tube that would connect the title. Ugh.


Fortunately, this idea was chosen. Emma and Kip are holding on for dear life, with a wedding band and engagement ring floating around them, implying everything is up in the air.


I created each element separately on paper (the pastel background, the hand, the figures, the rings, the hand-lettered title), then scanned and merged them digitally in Photoshop. This is the final illustration.


As the 2015 winner of Portland Stage’s Clauder Competition, the script was further worked during last summer’s Little Festival of the Unexpected. Under the nimble direction of Sally Wood, the play has debuted with unexpected depth and poignancy.

When I attended last week, the sight of the hospital bed triggered my distant loss, and might for anyone who’s had to face medical realities.


Anita Stewart’s set design was brilliantly seamless, with stage crew dressed in scrubs striding in and out of gliding hospital walls as scenes changed.

Frank Sinatra music plays in the background. Here’s a drawing of Frank from an old sketchbook of mine.


You can hear his version of I’ve Got the World on a String HERE.

I’ve got the world on a string, sittin’ on a rainbow,
Got the string around my finger,
What a world, what a life, I’m in love!

Perfect lyrics that actually contrast with the ambivalent ending of the play. Go see for yourself, it’s the last weekend!


What’s Up in IL 2?

Posted by on Apr 17, 2017 in Art Classes, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, pastels, Peaks Island | 7 comments

Between illustration deadlines , I’ve been teaching Illustration 2 at Maine College of Art. This sophomore level elective is open to any student, and usually includes those interested in majoring in Illustration or Digital Media. There are two sections, and mine has 10 amazing people! While Illustration 1 involves an emphasis on black and white media, IL 206 focuses on color, concept development, and putting images into context, with a design layout provided.

The first day of class students were presented with pastel pencils, colored paper and sand paper, and a grab bag of toy animals. They chose 3 colors and paper scraps, and then drew a surprise from a bag. Limitations of color can spark unexpected serendipity.


Drawings by William Kittredge



Drawings by Taryn Perry

We have begun every class with an observational drawing session of 15 – 20 minutes, with students providing one or two objects. Not only a good exercise, it’s a chance to warm up before we focus on the project at hand. Will brought in an object he had just assembled, drawn here by Peter Maloney.


Drawing by Peter Maloney


Drawing by Emily Carlson

Drawing by Emily Carlson


Project 1 involved illustrating one of 3 fables for a book jacket. Early classes include brainstorming ideas, followed by sketch development. We also had a live model session, in which some handy props conjured some fable characters.


Drawing by Taryn Perry

Warm-ups with short poses using ink captured quick gestures.


And longer poses involving more props and color.


Drawing by Thomas D’Amore

After a couple of snow days and much sketching, final illustrations were submitted in the context of the cover design. It’s an additional leap for students to work within a given layout, pairing image and text together, choosing colors to balance and contrast, while allowing room for legibility.

Illustration by Fred Aldrich

Illustration by Fred Aldrich


Illustration by Sarah Sawtelle


Illustration by William Kittredge

Illustration by William Kittredge

We moved onto Project 2, illustrating a tea package. Students were given a template, but could create an imaginary tea flavor to cover the package. This one referenced a Japanese landscape and still life.


Illustration by Andrew Moran

Sam created several individual images that she layered into her final design.


Illustration by Sam Myrdek

Thomas created a pattern of marijuana leaves for a wallpaper backdrop for his medicinal blend.

Illustration by Thomas D'Amore

Illustration by Thomas D’Amore

I brought in some deer skulls borrowed from an island neighbor for one of the observational drawing sessions.

Drawing by Thomas D'Amore

Drawing by Thomas D’Amore



Drawing by Frederick Aldrich

We met for one class in the Joanne Waxman Library, where Library Director Shiva Darbandi shared this quote:

“Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.” -Author Sidney Sheldon
We played a game I call Library Lines. Students draw a prompt from a hat, which is a category related to illustration, located on the shelves.
They find that area, choose a book from the stacks, and make a tracing from an image found in that book. Sam is making a tracing here.
They repeat this 7 times, tracing from other books found, so the final image is a layered linear collage. Each drawing represents several deliberate choices, each step informed by the one before. Hopefully there are surprises, such as discovering the resources at hand, while making an image triggered by impulse. Sam’s resulted in a lyrical use of text with crisp juxtapositions.
Drawing by Sam Myrdek

Drawing by Sam Myrdek


This one makes bold use of variations in line weight, with an implied narrative of violent history.


Drawing by Owen Scott

Drawing by Owen Scott

This exercise was a lead into Project 3, an editorial assignment that called for interpreting one of three magazine articles. A majority of the class chose a piece from an award-winning science magazine, Nautilus, about engineering luck into game design. Owen’s piece touches on the aspect of luck as a belief in the gods, with luck symbols lining the steps of a Mayan-like temple of good fortune.
Illustration by Owen Scott

Illustration by Owen Scott


Taryn created a slot machine with a lucky winner oblivious to the furtive mechanic behind the machine.


Illustration by Taryn Perry

Illustration by Taryn Perry


Peter illustrated a game environment in which a player’s own handle is pulled by the game, referencing a point in the article about the manipulation of players’ perceptions about chance.



Illustration by Peter Maloney


In Project 4, students were asked to create a 3D character.  For our next class, we had a surprise visitor in the form of Pepper, an African pygmy hedgehog belonging to MECA alum (and former student) Andi Croak.




She skittered about the table, but everyone managed a few sketches.


Drawings by Peter Maloney

Drawings by Peter Maloney


Pepper felt most at home burrowing into Andi’s sweatshirt.




Andi brought in a few of her recent 3D works, and discussed the materials, obstacles, and rewards of creating them.


Students began sketching ideas and playing with Sculpy and other materials.


Sketches and prototype by Sarah Sawtelle

Sketches and prototype by Sarah Sawtelle


sketches and work in progress by Sam Myrdek

sketches and work in progress by Sam Myrdek


Before the final critique, Sam brought photography equipment to shoot their pieces for a card set, which is in production as I write. For the final crit, students assembled their preliminary sketches, the photograph of their piece, the actual 3D piece, and a drawing made afterwards of their piece. Bringing 2D into three-dimensional form, and back into 2D reproduction is a circle with many layers of challenge.

Joe Rosshirt was a student when I first assigned this project, in 2008.  He went on to create several 3D characters during his years as a MECA illustration major. Now a freelance illustrator and animator, Joe currently co-teaches a Junior Seminar here, and agreed to be a guest critter.




Everyone had frustrations with materials, yet remarkable discoveries were made. I am always impressed with the efforts and perseverance of my students!


Photograph and sculpture by Emily Carlson


Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by William Kittredge

Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by William Kittredge


Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by Sarah Sawtelle

Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by Sarah Sawtelle


At this point in the semester, the class needed a break. They made a field trip to visit my studio on Peaks Island, a welcome dose of fresh air, sunshine, and a two-cent tour of the island. Plus, refreshments!





Now they are working on Project 5, the last assignment. They will illustrate a gig poster for their favorite band. They will design their own layouts and consider typography.


When we returned to class the next time, I gave a word prompt, to illustrate a word with 5 – 8 letters. I’ve given this prompt before, and I am always delighted by the results.


Lettering by Emily Carlson

Lettering by Emily Carlson

Lettering by Andrew Moran

Lettering by Andrew Moran



Lettering by William Kittredge

Lettering by William Kittredge


Next class we will draw from the model again, with musical instruments for props. Drawing from the figure is always useful, and we may listen to the bands chosen.

The semester has flown by, working alongside these nimble folks. They have brainstormed together, drawn together, and stretched themselves. It’s an honor to share the classroom with them. Onward, Illustration 2!





Prickly Picture Book Program on Peaks

Posted by on Apr 12, 2017 in A Porcupine's Promenade, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, Island Birthday, Peaks Island, Portland Public Library, Tilbury House | 2 comments

Many thanks to the Peaks Island Branch Library for hosting our Prickly Picture Book Program on Saturday morning.


I couldn’t resist making something sweet and prickly, too. (Do try this at home, a pile of warm brownies pierced with toothpicks is a very fun sculpture to make and then eat!)


It was a pleasure to have Lyn Smith, the author of A Porcupine’s Promenade visit Peaks Island.


As a reading specialist, Lyn enjoys reading aloud.  She makes these porcupine noises that I just cannot fathom how.


I talked a bit before making a visual presentation, about how I came to illustrate this book.


We can thank Maine Authors Publishing for bringing us together. I shared some of my process, such as drawing the first porcupine close-up. I had to imagine one without all it’s quills first, a prickle-less Priscilla. My sharp strokes had to be precise and in the right direction. I am quite sure I procrastinated at this point, and went for a walk.


I also shared some of the rough sketch ideas for the book jacket. This was an early favorite that did not become the cover.


I brought some pastel pencils, paper, and some nature objects for those inclined to draw.


In the sweetest of gestures, two artists gave me one of their drawings. This is Avery’s cheerful mountain of gratitude.


Here is Louise’s vivid sunset. She is also wearing some pastel, which often happens to me while I work with color dust!


After book signing, Lyn got our two-cent tour of the island, which includes driving past the ocean and through the many woods, still shrouded in snow. All too quickly, she left for home, warmed by making new island friends.


Marty Braun, Jamie Hogan, and Lyn Smith photo © Anne Dennison

During this National Library Week, I am SO grateful for the support of our island library. These two, Rose Ann Walsh and Priscilla Webster, contribute greatly to our book-loving community. I begin any project by going there, and they always find things I didn’t know I was looking for. When I was illustrating Island Birthday, I even got them to model for me for a scene that takes place in a post office. Here is a detail.


As author Neil Gaiman has said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Thanks to my community for coming to learn about our book, you make my heart sing!






Buyer & Cellar

Posted by on Mar 18, 2017 in drawing, Illustration, Portland Stage Company | 0 comments

Between shoveling snow and illustration deadlines, the winter is blasting by. Hard to believe it’s actually spring break for those of us at MECA, MICA, and MCLA. Post-blizzard, we enjoyed finally seeing Portland Stage’s current production, Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins.

About the same time last year, I was in a mad rush (like this year) to illustrate posters for the entire season. The hilarious script features the famously nimble Dustin Tucker, who plays Alex Moore, as the imagined shop-keeper in the basement boutique on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate, where she keeps her collections in real life. Yes, really. He also plays Barbra, her husband, and two other characters.

These were my early quick sketches. This one references the So-Cal location.


How about the shop-keeper with an iconic Barbra profile?


Barbra has a soft-serve machine in her shop…


It’s a deft play of power dynamics. While Alex is at Barbra’s beck and call, he discovers her vulnerabilities.


It goes both ways. Here he has Barbra in the palm of his hand, like one of her many dolls.


I played with another scale shift, making Alex the small figure next to Barbra’s enormous shopping bag, a metaphor for her insatiable  shopping.


This one references Alex waiting at the bottom of the stairs, Barbra’s eyes in a gilded mirror.


Sketch #2 got the nod, so I began by drawing Dustin. Not the best likeness, he’s way more handsome. I illustrated the costume he is given in the script, although he doesn’t wear it in the performance. Because these posters have so many different applications, I often do them in pieces that are merged in Photoshop. Elements can be reused in multiple formats.


I had the hardest time drawing Barbra.

9-barbra_blogThe chandelier became her earring.





Burgundy is apparently one of her favorite colors. I made a pastel backdrop for the other drawings.


The color looked a bit dead, so it got brightened when I added the other elements.

11final_blogThe drawing for the shop cabinet stayed simple to not compete with the main characters.12cabinet_blog

I loved the set by Meg Anderson! 


The spare and elegant design left room for Dustin’s virtuoso performance, with the spotlight always on that aspirational book, My Passion for Design, stage center. Even if you’re not a Barbra fan, Buyer & Cellar is non-stop entertainment. Look, my amused guests enjoyed it. Go see for yourself, it’s on stage til March 26.


Marty and Daisy Braun, Jonathan Hoel, Melissa Sweet, and Jamie Hogan, photo by Mark Holden

100 days smarter

Posted by on Feb 23, 2017 in A Porcupine's Promenade, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, pastels, school visits | 4 comments

Last week I had the good fortune to visit another stellar school: Kennebunkport Consolidated School. Author Lyn Smith and I received a warm welcome from first grade teachers and set up in Mrs. Roberts’ room.


There was evidence all over the place that students here are on the ball. I need one of these oversize pencils as a prop, since I’m always talking about keeping our eyes and pencils sharp.


We attended the Friday morning assembly, where I spied this ingenious banner in the hall. The entire school was celebrating the first 100 days of learning.


After the pledge, the school song, announcements, a dance, and watching a Kid President video, we were duly warmed up for hearing Lyn read her book, A Porcupine’s Promenade.


Such good listeners! They wanted to know how the book was made. Lyn told them it is a true story, but she made up the boy, Bailey. I talked about my process and shared my book dummy and sketchbook, and a pile of supplies and nature objects.


Lyn gave everyone a sketchbook, and they began their observational studies.


This artist did three different studies of a sea star.


I like that this artist found great color matches for their drawing, and imagined 6 eggs nestled inside.


Careful noticing going on here.


I noticed this artist wearing deer all over her, while drawing an antler.


And that careful butterfly is now flying up to a tall blooming flower! They picked up on my tales of illustrating with both observation and imagination.


Lyn spotted one student writing observations down.


It was gratifying when Karen Bubar, the principal, took time to share in the discovery.


My heart sang when Caroline gave me her mini pastel masterpieces. Thank you!


Michelle Roberts and Lyn are former colleagues, and remain proud advocates of children’s literacy.


On the ride home, we rode through the Wells Reserve past Laudholm Farm, where Lyn is doing a reading and activity for their Winter Wildlife Day. Like RIGHT NOW! Looking up at these tall trees, I wondered if Priscilla might be napping there.


In the book, this is my final illustration. Do porcupines dream?


Thanks to the Kennebunk Education Foundation for another great encounter with kids, books, and drawing!