When I saw the forecast a week ago, I dared to ship all my original art to Tilbury House instead of driving there in a blizzard. Not an easy decision, given I’ve had this work in my head and on my table for the past five months. Whew! Ana and the Sea Star by R. Lynne Roelfs will be out in Fall 2017.
Driving down front to the post office on Peaks Island, all was quiet before the storm. Even us chickens.
I’m a snail mailer from way back, so the island post office is an almost daily destination. Isn’t it cute?
Once the storm picked up steam, I ventured out for a weather report of my own. The first foot of snow is normal enough.
Cue the sound effects here: crashing waves and howling wind.
I hiked up to Tolman Heights, no sledders in sight.
Wow, like magic, my husband hero had begun shoveling.
My studio is one of the coziest places I know, so I holed up with my valentine supplies.
I heard my Ana and the Sea Star art had arrived safely, and made this card in honor of all those letter carriers delivering love to every corner.
I also made some sweetness for my own valentine, because what good is a blizzard without baking?
We enjoyed a lovely valentine date last night at Vignola, and looked for heart-shaped icebergs on the ride home.
Found these delicious cards upon return. Thank you, beloved peeps!
Now it’s back to the drawing board on new projects before the next blizzard….stay warm, everyone.
On a bitter cold Saturday morning, the colorful sight of Portland Stage’s Executive Director Anita Stewart warmed me right up. It was the Theater for Kids 7th birthday and Island Birthday was being featured in their Play Me a Story production. I was delighted to be on hand to witness the theatrical reading. But first, party hats were a necessary prop!
Actors voiced different characters and provided sound affects. Below James Patefield (middle) plays Riley, the lead character in Island Birthday who is tired of being out of milk, and living on a remote island. (James was bully good as Teddy Roosevelt in Arsenic and Old Lace as well.)
After two books and two poems were performed, the chairs were removed to the sides of the theater and actors gathered the children in a circle to talk about what acting tools are: imagination, body, and voice. Kids were led through a series of absurd prompts, like chewing gum into a huge bubble that bursts on your face and all over your body and must be pulled off with icky dismay. Hilarious! They also became noises in a thundering storm, and brave pilots took turns flying through the raucous mob of bodies.
You just might want to get in on this action, every Saturday coming up, with more wonderful books in line, details HERE.
It thoroughly put me in the mood for seeing the current production, Arsenic and Old Lace. I worked on the poster about a year ago. These are a few of the rough sketches I presented for consideration.
Of course, I watched the classic film first, and was spooked by Jonathan Brewster, the creepy older brother.
I was also desperate to draw some lace and romance.
The tension between the dark thriller and the comedy seemed like a good contrast for scars and lace. Or being tied up.
Eyes peering out of lace? Maybe too hokey.
Lovers in a bottle? This was the idea that got the nod.
I found lovely lace samples in a recent copy of Uppercase Magazine.
I did my drawing thinking the lace was full of spying eyes. I inverted the drawing in Photoshop so it would appear white. And of course, I got out some wine for reference, and maybe a little imbibing. Part of the job, c,mon.
This is the final illustration, with some wonky ellipses, which are so challenging.
What a blast to see the amazing set design by Brittany Vasta when I attended the Sunday performance. She did the sets for three other plays for which I did the poster art: The Whipping Man, A Song at Twilight, and My Name Is Asher Lev. Love how the wallpaper pattern here echoes the lace theme.
And the wine glasses match, too!
It helps when you are with a gang that loves comedy. Doug Smith, in the bottom left, is my island neighbor who first got me in the door at Portland Stage, and has also illustrated many posters for them.
We stuck around for the discussion with the cast after the performance. Led by Literary Manager Todd Backus (far right), the cast reappeared out of costume, one by one, with hearty applause.
It was informative to hear about their process of preparation, auditioning or not, how they are all thrown together for a mere three weeks of rehearsal, with no understudies. Actress Leighton Bryan (Elaine Harper) rehearsed early on with a sprained ankle, carried about the stage by Ross Cowan, her fiance (Mortimer Brewster) in the play.
Portland Stage has pulled off another winner with this vintage chestnut, go see for yourself!
You know it’s serious when an introverted, crowd-averse, middle-aged peep decides to go to the NYC Women’s March.
But how could I not? I joined my neighbors, Nicole d’Entremont and Eleanor Morse, both writers and veteran activists for civil rights, peace, and the environment. Nicole and I left serene sunshine on Peaks Island, crossed Casco Bay, and took the bus to NYC, where a soft drizzle greeted us.
We walked to Chelsea where I met our host, Fran, and her friend, Shirley, who is a Raging Granny. Here’s my sketch of Shirley in her Pucci scarf.
She invited us to join the opening ceremonies at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in the morning. So we did.
It was a tight mob of buoyant citizens, many signs and so many smiles. Rosie Perez introduced several of the speakers.
Whoopie Goldberg addressed the crowd, saying “The change is on us! This is just the beginning.”
There were songs, more speakers, including a hello from Dame Helen Mirren and a welcome from New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray. We sang our national anthem together and then we were off, literally like a herd of turtles, inching ever so slowly over to the street. This is Nicole and Fran, in the foreground, ready to hoist our banner, painted by Marty Braun.
It served right away as a connector between us, the crowd was so thick. We chatted with other sign-makers.
I met a fellow biker, proudly sporting her pink hat.
It seemed to take forever to reach the end of the block but everyone was in a good mood.
Finally, we made it to Second Avenue where we could actually march. Onward!
When we turned onto 42nd Street, I was overwhelmed with pride for the marchers, as far as the eye could see! Yes, this is what democracy looks like. Somebody joked, yeah, like gridlock.
By the time we reached Grand Central Station, we needed a pit stop.
As did everyone else. We’d been on our feet for almost six hours. Really?!! We left the march and headed back to Chelsea. Friends elsewhere were marching, too. Here is Madeline Sorel and friends, somewhere near us.
And Doris Ruth Barton, also in NYC.
Back in Maine, a group of Peaks Island kids had the same idea for the Portland march.
My heart sang to see a photo of my neighbors filling the ferry, feisty as ever.
The Portland March drew 10,000! Here an invincible Zahara stands firm on the Eastern Prom.
The hand-made nature of signage is a beautiful thing.
Up in Augusta, my cousin Wanda was with friends and family.
Fellow islander Jane Banquer reported the crowd in August was too big to move.
Meanwhile, islander Carol Young, on the far right, met up with friends in DC.
Daisy brought her sign to a protest in Baltimore.
Her roommate Ellie took note that the new administration has deleted quite a few pages from the White House website.
On Sunday, Nicole and I walked along the High Line. This manifesto by Zoe Leonard from 1992 remains potent.
Signs, signs, everywhere about what is going down.
Given what’s happened in just a few days, we got way more more marching and resisting to do.
When Lyn Smith, author of A Porcupine’s Promenade, promised to introduce me to Henry, I could barely wait. Why didn’t I meet this friendly fellow last July when I was working on my illustrations? Henry is a male North American porcupine who has lived at the Center for Wildlife since November 2014. He was mistakenly taken home by some well-meaning folks who thought he was abandoned at the base of a tree. Did you know porcupine mothers climb and forage in trees before their young can climb along? I learned a lot illustrating Lyn’s story; it was a surprise to me that they climb, and I had fun working on this illustration for the book.
Once Henry was habituated to human contact, his survival in the wild is at risk. He is one of 23 ambassadors who visit schools and engage the public in wildlife education. I fed Henry a carrot before he toddled off after some smell, only to be blocked by Katie Brodeur, Education Fellow with the Education and Outreach Program, who cheerfully scooped him up before he disappeared under a building.
She graciously gave us a tour of all the other animals, including a pair of barred owls named Bianca and Byron (I think this is Byron) who arrived in 1995 after being hit by cars.
For owls and other predators, roadsides lure them with discarded human food scraps and can be deadly. In their cases, they both sustained permanent injury to their wings. Bianca has fostered over 40 barred owlets who have then been released back to the wild!
Lyn gave me a tour of Wells before hosting me at her home filled with collections of shells, gemstones, duck decoys, and more. Her husband, Brian, is a science teacher and avid outdoorsman, as well as the source of her porcupine story. They are thrilled with Lyn’s new sign!
I sketched one of the two deer mounted in their cozy den.
We were up before the moon set to visit Kennebunk Elementary School, where Lyn works as a reading specialist. What a beautiful school, filled with art and amazing learners!
I set up in the Learning Lab. After the morning assembly, we would meet there with 5 classes of first graders, thanks to a grant from the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks & Arundel. Thank you for the opportunity to engage students with visual literacy!
I brought my sketchbooks, my dummy for the book, a box of nature objects, pastels and pencils, some scraps of sandpaper, and each student was given a nature journal. They could also hug a fuzzy porcupine puppet.
Lyn introduced me to staff before the assembly. Excellent displays everywhere!
Principal Ryan Quinn made opening remarks at the assembly with the help of some students. The chorus sang, birthdays were announced, and then Lyn read her book while the audience watched the illustrations on big monitors.
I shared a slide show of my process for creating the illustrations and then we met the team of Teen Trendsetters, a group of Kennebunk High School students who created a fantastic book trailer on our behalf. They mentor 20 first graders every week as part of a program coordinated by Joy Russo and funded by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. How cool is that?
When the first graders arrived, I let them feel the edges of this opening piece. I draw on sanded paper, so the pastel pigment will stick to the rough surface.
They began their observational studies with keen detail.
Guess who joined the mix? Principal Ryan Quinn, who engaged a table of eager artists.
Pine cones are not easy to draw, but this drawing is off to a great capturing of complexity. It’s all about point of view.
This artist has drawn a colorful scene, making use of the blue page to suggest the cold day.
A good part of nature studies is the handling of an object. How does the surface feel? What are the patterns?
There’s a lot of serious focus going on! The choice of color, the placement of marks, the image taking shape…
This artist was clearly excited about the pastel and the sandpaper. He made several small studies to arrange in a group.
This artist made intuitive blends of warm and cool contrasts and taped her sandpaper into the sketchbook.
This artist was drawing from an unidentified bone I found on the beach. He was repeating the bone shape into a dinosaur skeleton, an imaginative leap just like a paleontologist!
And then he drew around the shapes with gusto.
All day, I was delighted by the associations made, the curious wonder of making marks, and their enthusiasm. How about this prickly porcupine with bold quills?
As each class lined up to leave, Lyn gave them a copy of her book, which we had both signed.
This is Abby, who told me she had written and illustrated her own book about a lion. Keep those eyes and pencils sharp!
Many thanks to the first grade teachers for sharing their incredible students. And for the use of magnifying glasses to scrutinize the details!
Lyn and I left with these fun souvenirs.
Lyn will be reading and signing her book this Saturday at Mt. Agamenticus, where a Story Walk of A Porcupine’s Promenade is featured on the trails. Get outside and enjoy the wild wonders of Maine!
Everybody seemed eager to kick 2016 into history. Yeah, there were losses, that Election, hate, and plenty of things I want to forget. But a New Year…is a perennial place for hope. An earnest band of neighbors called the Get a Grip club gathered at our house on New Year’s Eve, armed with resolutions of change, good humor, and some hand-made glasses we will use for envisioning a better world.
Rest assured, we will keep a grip on what matters!
A few days later I visited King Middle School, a hive of young people poised to take over the world. It was my 9th outing as a visiting artist for their World Languages Art Expedition Kick-Off. Local artists of all stripes share their work and wisdom to rotating groups of students who will choose a French or Spanish-speaking artist, write a paper in that language, and create art inspired by that artist. I’ve been participating since my daughter, Daisy, was a King student, and for the second year, she joined me as a visiting artist, too.
Fellow presenter Jenny Van West strummed her guitar before the event began, looking over my table of books, posters, pastels, and props.
I shared the dummy for Island Birthday, in which I used my neighbor, Nikolai, as a model. He’s also a King sixth grader now, and will likely do this project when he hits eighth grade.
Showed them the finished illustration. I brought some scraps of the sandpaper I use, and some of them got dirty with a handful of pastels. Island Birthday will be featured on Jan. 28 at Portland Stage’s Play Me a Story!
I brought a sketchbook, never one to waste an opportunity to promote the value of drawing. I’ve begun some of my MECA illustration classes with an observational exercise in which students bring in objects for a 15 minute session. Art students often bring in toys. This is my sketch of what Gunnar Johnson brought; it was a challenge with so many parts.
And here is a MECA student I spied in the library, looking like Rapunzel checking her e-mail.
Five rounds of students asked questions, took notes, or doodled. When it was done, kids could wander to other tables they hadn’t been assigned. Daisy had a rapt audience.
Also some of her figure drawings from a MECA Continuing Studies class. She used these when she applied to colleges.
She showed a couple of commissions, too, like this cover illustration for the Island Directory. Plenty of island kids recognized it.
Daisy designed this t-shirt using similar sinuous tangles for a local cultural exchange organization.
We owe the ties that bind to Daisy’s beloved French teacher, Ms. Zack, who spearheaded the language arts project years ago.
Thanks to the King teachers and all the great students who asked the best questions, like “do you regret your choice?” Never! I asked some of them who they are choosing to research. One student is reporting on a Bolivian pastel artist, Roberto Mamani Mamani. I looked up his work; thanks for the inspiration! Another asked what I did for inspiration, and my answer was 1) taking a walk and 2) going to see art. Daisy and I stopped at UNE’s Art Gallery to see Pastels Only, the 17th Annual International Juried Exhibition of the Pastel Painters of Maine. Cool work!
Walking on Peaks Island always brings an open mind and renews my energies.
I’m working now on a new picture book for Tilbury House. Everything is on the table when I begin, the dummy, my reference photos, and my chosen pastels.
Later this week I make another school visit, to Kennebunk Elementary School, where author Lyn Smith works as a reading specialist. We will present our book, A Porcupine’s Promenade. Here’s a detail from the first page.
Can’t wait to meet the kids who inspire her, and maybe a porcupine, too! Stay tuned, 2017 promises to be full of art, learning, and travels.
I have stars on my mind.
It never fails that I am working out of season when illustrating a picture book. Last July I was feverishly drawing deep snow for A Porcupine’s Promenade. As the ice forms outside, I am drawing a summer day at the beach for Ana and the Sea Star (for Tilbury House, coincidentally located on Starr Street in Thomaston, Maine)
When we decorated our tree, I noticed how many star ornaments we have. This one, from former island neighbors Deb Deatrick and Scott Vile, is a joy to rediscover every year.
The letterpress poem by Robert Frost always shines a light on whatever is going on. Take Something Like a Star ends with these lines:
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may take something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
The returning of seasonal things every year gives me footing in this topsy turvy time. Like putting the lights on Phoebe’s tree, which I drew many years ago.
The glow from that small tree is a miracle, especially on the Solstice.
Meanwhile, the illustration I did for Portland Stage’s A Christmas Carol has been making the rounds for the second time. I still enjoy the quietude of this pastel.
In fact, any illustration is better with snow, is it not? I did this illustration ages ago for the Baltimore Sun for a reprise of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. The snow brings it alive.
Because of my picture book deadline, I re-purposed a previous holiday card, adding snow and cut paper snowflakes.
Marty added snow to his holiday card, too, depicting the door to our barn.
When our daughter, Daisy, returned from a busy semester at MICA she made this graphic card, no snow but those deer spots!
What a starry night for the Christmas eve service at Brackett Memorial, where a cast of angels and shepherds sang loud and clear. The passing of the Christmas candle for Silent Night is another symbolic moment that makes Christmas real for me.
Our old house welcomes everybody that shines. C’mon over!
You can find us on a little rock in the ocean, staid beneath a canopy of stars, as in this little watercolor by Daisy.
May all your wishing upon a star come true in 2017!
Illustration is literally all around right now. I just realized I’ve been doing it, living it, and breathing it non-stop for the last month.
My talented kin, Mati McDonough, an artist, illustrator, and teacher visited Maine in November. She gave me a long, hard hug the day after The Election, the results of which were still sinking in.
We went straight to the Portland Museum of Art, sure that art could lift our spirits. She signed her latest children’s book, How Do I Love Thee? an illustrative telling of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem.
We then browsed the Matisse show, which is full of his illustrations for art books.
In another exhibit, I spied this gorgeously illustrated plate by Rockwell Kent. Don’t miss all the epic Moby Dick action, it’s there til the end of this month.
Downtown on Congress Street, another exhibit showcases illustration: Picture This: The Art and Workings of the Illustration Institute, at the Portland Public Library. I’m thrilled to be part of it. This is my “process board” for Rickshaw Girl. Each participant was asked to fill a provided frame with the preliminary sketches and references that became the final illustration on display.
We attended a reception for the show on December 1 that included a DRAW OFF. Here is curator and Illustration Institute Director Scott Nash ready to duel with Matt Tavares. Basically anyone can throw out a prompt, the more absurd, the better. Kids seem to have the quickest ideas. Scott and Matt had to draw the god of candy!
Marty and I were paired. This actually happens at home, a lot. Our prompt: Pistachio Queen.
They tried their hands at a Draw Off during the next class.
We made an outing of studio visits to close out the semester. We began at Daniel Minter’s home, where soulful paintings like these line the walls.
He pulled out a huge stash of old sketchbooks, the kind he carried everywhere as a student and early professional. When one was full, he wrote RUINED on the front.
I noticed this David Driskell woodblock print in his library, reminiscent of the Matisse show, but more evocative.
We all got a kick out of seeing his early sketches, many of them satirical.
His dog, Kofi, guards the studio on the third floor.
I love seeing other people’s collections. There were wooden bowls of shells, cupboards of woven baskets, hanging brooms, and more. But what’s not to love about toys wearing LL Bean boots?
Everywhere there are wooden vessels, carvings, boxes, sticks, and frames. Daniel told us this blue is his favorite.
He discussed his recent book project, showing his sketches drawn directly on the manuscript for Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Told the World About Kindness.
He has stacks and stacks of linoleum pieces, this one for a USPS Kwanzaa stamp. He considers these the real art. “I’m a carver,” he said. He’s not that interested in the printing part. It’s the physicality of carving that he enjoys.
In this detail of a piece in the hall, Daniel’s favorite blue, his love of pattern, and an unforgettable eye all come together. We could have stayed there all day, spell bound.
We headed back towards the college to the Art Studio building where Kris Johnsen keeps a studio.
Students enjoyed patting Capone, another solid studio mate.
Kris has drawers full of ink drawings that he sometimes pieces together digitally for new hybrid images.
He majored in Graphic Design at MECA, but spent most of his time after hours in the printmaking studios. He began his career working at SPACE Gallery, and doing gig posters on the side. He maintains a silk screen operation in another room, and takes pride in printing his own multiples.
He’s also deeply involved in the Portland Patch Project. Here the whole collection shares space with a few toys.
I’m grateful to Kris and Daniel for sharing their magic, and for the curiosity of my students, and for illustration havens like Portland Museum of Art and the Portland Public Library.
See what I mean? So much illustration everywhere, so much to love.
Nancy F. W. Passmore is the venerable editor of Luna Press, which has published it’s 41st annual edition of the Lunar Calendar: Dedicated to the Goddess in Her Many Guises. I sketched her after our recent visit in Boston, which I will always consider Luna Land.
I’m honored when it’s my good fortune to do the cover! These are some of this year’s sketches, done in June.
In this rough idea, I have referenced my goddess figure sculpted by Peg Astarita.
I tried a collage approach.
This mosaic of blues was inspired by the work of Paul Klee.
How about simplicity?
This is based on the real deal: full moon rises on the back shore of Peaks Island have become a monthly calibration of my rhythms.
This one got the nod, and here is the final pastel, titled “Strawberry Wave.”
I’ve been contributing to the calendar since 1983, and Nancy has become a dear friend. We try to rendezvous annually at the Museum of Fine Arts, no better place to imbibe divine forces at work. She was unable to join us, but provided passes so Marty and I could wander among the masters.
We marveled at the work of John Wilson, in a series of prints in different states.
And I never knew William Merritt Chase worked in pastel! His wife was a frequent model and bears a striking resemblance to one of my current MECA students.
In the Modernism gallery, it was startling to see the original of one of my favorite paintings ever. Reproductions don’t do justice to all the texture in a Stuart Davis work.
We also saw a super exhibit of vintage posters from the collection of Robert Bachelder, A Century of Style: Masterworks of Poster Design. The Stephen D. Paine Gallery at Massachusetts College of Art and Design is filled to the brim with decades and decades of jewels.
Why am I always drawn to eyes? And polka dots? You could hypnotize me with this one by Fritz Buhler in 1945.
This detail from Richard Avedon’s classic from 1967 remains as trippy as ever.
I love the ornate detail in this one by Franz Von Stuck in 1911.
Nancy would enjoy the moonlight in this one.
We went straight to Nancy’s house for a quick visit, amidst her cat collectibles.
She shared an article with me, where I found a revealing quote by Marcel Proust: “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having fresh eyes.” Exactly!
We headed back to our island in time to welcome our own visionary girl, here looking closely at some of the zines from my junior illustration MECA majors.
During her visit my eyes felt as fresh as ever, seeing beauty everywhere. I take comfort in the eyes of nature watching over us, the goddess in her many guises.
We make our marks by being ourselves.
Thanks to Nancy and the Luna Press for the gifts of wisdom and lunacy!
Of all the scripts I read in January for Portland Stage poster development, Sotto Voce by Nilo Cruz stood out as multi-layered, romantic, and evocative. In the play, a young Cuban man finds a German-born novelist living in New York who shares a connection to the 1939 voyage of the MS St Louis, a German ship that left for Cuba with German-Jewish refugees, only to be turned back. The elder writer, Bemadette, calls the young man Student. They don’t meet yet weave a romance built on memories and imagination via phone calls and messages.
Like all the plays this season, the theme is about what never was, with an underlying longing that triggers mixed emotions. Here are some rough sketches. Bemadette is looking back. The ocean liner hovers in memory, with a couple dancing, submerged below the water line.
I tried the idea of using the O’s in the title as portholes with different images..
In one scene, the young Cuban, Saquiel, invites Bemadette’s caregiver, Lucila, to a dance class. It’s an electric moment.
The dancing couple got the nod. I enjoyed looking up vintage clothing, this dress is by Sonia Delaunay.
This is the final illustration, done in charcoal pencil and pastel.
Anita Stewart’s set design gorgeously combines real and imaginary spaces. Director Liz Diamond staged an amazing dance of the past and future with stellar performances by the actors, James Cusati-Moyer, Carmen Roman, and Anita Petry. The lighting by Solomon Weisbard cast the perfect spell.
The playwright and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Nilo Cruz, will join Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco after this Sunday’s 2 PM performance for a discussion. I hope you’ll go see this enchanting play, you have until Nov. 20!
Last week I traveled to Wayne, Maine to visit a beloved friend, Katherine. She is laying claim to her father’s retirement home, the kind of legacy that some of us have faced, and for one reason or another, have sold. In her case, she is making way for a new relationship to her father’s land and all that he left behind.
Jack Mahoney was an avid fisherman and salty outdoorsman. Kathy shares his Yankee humor, so we spent most of our time laughing our guts out.
We walked around the property, which borders Androscoggin Lake.
We later identified this peculiar fungi with a guide found among Jack’s hefty book collection. (These are shaggy manes, Coprinus comatus, also know as inky caps, thanks to Charlotte Carlson’s note in the comments!)
I heard the story about how Jack got this deer.
We had so much to catch up on! And walks to share, over beaver-chiseled logs and deer droppings.
Found this glorious chart on Jack’s table.
After a good night’s sleep with loon calls over the lake, I woke to find a guy dipping a net.
There was just enough time to make a quick pastel study before we packed up to leave.
Thanks to Katherine for a serene retreat filled with great company! The legacy of place is beyond compare in the realm of memory. What a blessing to sustain it for making new stories.