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.
We are well over the hump of this semester in IL 321, where I lead an intrepid pack of 15 students in the Junior Illustration Majors Studio at Maine College of Art. I met them briefly last spring after they declared their major, and gave them sketchbooks to fill for the summer. I believe in the powers of daily drawing, and knew whatever they brought back to the table would provide seeds for insight and inspiration. And I’m always blown away.
Tyler Eldridge is double majoring in Illustration and Graphic Design. Stand back!
Some students had a tough time finding the space to draw, with summer jobs and needing a creative break. Aric Gross made the most of what was on hand at his job.
Hannah Barrett captures a fierce determination in her sketchbook.
Katie Steere drew folk costumes from her maternal homeland.
For the first project, they created zines based on ideas sparked by their sketchbooks. From girl gangs to sled dogs to long-distance romance, they illustrated very specific stories.
The next project involved a circus poster. Here Kat Harris draws a nimble model during a session of life studies that informed their figurative needs.
I brought in pastel supplies for some quick color studies. This is Sami’s.
The good guys from Wing Club Press had done a workshop in RISO printing just in time for the poster project. Jennifer Olson laid out her first prints to dry.
Once again, students found totally different ways to approach the same theme. This is Rachel Breckenridge’s:
Kolby Hildebrandt’s made use of the off-register moment in her pile of contortionists.
Aric Gross allowed for color-mixing by using different paper.
The next project was illustrating an editorial piece for a travel magazine. Sami Monoxelos made the yak her metaphor for adventure.
Jennifer Olson’s zebras are a field of form and pattern.
Cara Peslak made dramatic use of limited color in this sly encounter.
The current project involves illustrating a historical narrative moment of their choice. I brought them downstairs to the Joanne Waxman Library for an exercise I call Secrets of the Stacks. Library Director Shiva Darbandi met the class with a warm welcome and a floor plan.
Students drew a call number prompt from a box, such as Fashion and Textile TT500 or Native American Art E78 – E99, and located that shelf. Then they chose a book to page through, found an image of interest, and traced it on a sheet of tracing paper provided.
They did this multiple times, creating a layered image from a variety of sources. It’s less about the tracing as it is about the finding, the searching, and the unexpected encounters with books they’ve never met.
My goal is to familiarize everyone, including myself, with the resources available and hope they found research material for their project. Their linear collages of free associations invite more complexity of visual thinking. Hannah Barrett’s drawing:
This is Cara Peslak’s:
Next the class traveled across the bay to Peaks Island for a brisk field trip. We stopped at the local barn to view the horses.
Beachcombing, the best for last!
The display of original illustration accompanied by process boards with preliminary sketches, notes, and references… is a gold mine of how final pieces take shape.
Look, it’s the bit of historical ephemera that sparked Chris Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship.
I delighted in finding this endearing thread from Scott Nash, curator of the show, who proved that memory stays with us, whether we know it or not.
Fellow MECA faculty Daniel Minter included an open sketchbook in his process board:
Students can relate to how something begins this loosely:
And in the veteran hands of Kevin Hawkes becomes this, a detail from The Wicked Big Toddlah.
The class was glad for a place to sit and mingle with books and each other.
I’m thrilled to be sharing MECA’s illustration studio with this tribe of students. If you want more evidence of how special Maine College of Art really is, check out this new VIDEO.
The former printmaking studios are under renovation, and have relocated to 1515 Mount Royal Avenue.
Daisy showed us her recent monoprints made with a cut Mylar stencil.
We also toured the silkscreen studio, where she laid out recent editions.
I didn’t see it at first, but this is a family portrait.
We went back to her dorm to find this papercut Daisy did of her roommate, who was dreaming in the next room.
She proudly showed us her latest tool.
Working in the dark room is proving to be challenging but fun.
We kept finding murals to love, this one around the corner.
We dropped Daisy at MICA and joined our gracious hosts, Karen and Steve. Here is my humble sketch of Karen Houppert, editor of the City Paper. So grateful for their hospitality!
The next day at MICA was full of informative talks and inspiration. Megan Miller, Director of the Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Career Development led an excellent panel of recent alums talking about their journeys from school to professional life.
I sketched Precious Blake, illustrator and community organizer, who remarked, “I say stand out and be memorable.”
We found the City Cafe for a hearty brunch before more roaming in the blustery wind.
After running into fellow MICA parents, Daniel and Marcia Minter, we followed Daisy back to the silkscreen studio, where she washed out a screen for her next project.
We also encountered more exhibits, this one titled FRESH, work by female students curated by Ricki Rothchild.
Daisy left to study for a Modernism exam. We hung out in the Decker Library enjoying their new zine collection and making buttons.
And always, we spied another mural.
We rounded up a gang for a delicious evening at Cosima’s. Ellie and Daisy enjoyed the menu!
On Sunday we had a picnic at Federal Hill, Daisy’s favorite park. Best dang spot to take in the view.
Our hugs have to last a whole month. Soon enough she’ll be back on the Rock, seen here from the plane as we returned to Casco Bay.
The Peaks Island Elementary School, also known as PIES, is brimming with curiosity even after the bell rings. I’m excited to share the latest Side x Side project I’m working on with fellow teaching artist, Pamela Moulton, as part of the school’s After School Academy.
We kicked it off in theatrical style, thanks to Pamela’s bounty of hand-crafted costumes.
Pamela and her performance collaborator, Sharoan Cohen, brought loud squeals from the students as they emerged from a special package from Professor Pitcher, an Earth Sciences researcher in need of assistance. They took questions from the kids and their intrepid leader, Jonathan Downs.
We shared a visual presentation of land forms in photography and painting.
Everybody wanted to get into the act!
Are kids always this angelic after school? Yes, and no!
For the next visit, I made sketchbooks for the explorers. Drawing is the first step in sharp observational studies.
We began outside, drawing any natural thing that caught our fancy.
For some kids, this meant getting INTO a tree to draw.
For another, it meant drawing a leaf turned brilliant red.
We returned to the art room to open another package from the Professor.
WOW. A big hunk of sparkle! Quite a few explorers identified this: micah!
There was more to see and touch, and magnify.
I love the sound of drawing.
The attention to detail, to placement on the page, to color contrasts of warm and cool…all landed intuitively within their sketchbooks.
The following week, another letter arrived from Professor Pitcher. She teaches at the University of Toronto, and is studying deep fissures in the Earth’s crust. While on Peaks Island during the summer, she collected some island rocks. As she ran for a ferry, she was unable to carry them all.
She included photos of our island’s land forms, like cove, peninsula, pond, and cliff.
Island Explorers set out with the mission to find her hidden package!
Two right turns, and four manhole covers, and one big driftwood log later…
Just at the edge of the high tide, tucked under a house..was a very old leather pocketbook. Full of rocks.
It was time to draw the findings.
Maybe even identify a few.
We returned to the art room where Pamela enlarged an island map drawing found in the Professor’s bag. Everyone was eager to help with mapping.
They took turns tracing the outline of Peaks Island.
There were spools of thread and tape to add to the mix.
A blue and green coastline emerged.
Quick eyes spotted the similarity: thumbs up, Island Explorers!
Tomorrow they will seek more knowledge while building sculptures for a 3D prototype of island land forms. Bring it on!
Many thanks to the Peaks Island Fund for supporting arts integration.
Maine College of Art’s Pace House is a legendary destination for alums and students. With great anticipation, I drove the MECA van with 7 of this year’s senior illustration majors and their fearless leader Mary Anne Lloyd under crisp October skies to Stonington, Maine.
The house is full of art by Stephen Pace and his wife Palmina, whose hats hang in the front hall. Annelise and Gunnar wasted no time in embodying their kindred spirits.
We made lunch and then scattered to scout out the local village and environs. I made a pie to bake later.
Mary Anne put her lasagna in the oven, and brought out supplies for making sketchbooks.
How fulfilling to feast together, dining on Palmina’s ceramic plates.
Stories were shared by a fragrant bonfire under starry skies.
Students made an enormous breakfast the next morning, and then we scattered again to draw. I sat on rocks at the edge of the harbor and drew the incoming tide.
Annelise came along and sketched, too.
I switched to pastels and made a quick study of the nearby fish shack.
We regrouped for lunch where I found Haley drawing nature objects.
Later I found a perch by myself to draw the pond up the road, using one of the handy-dandy drawing boards Mary Anne gave to each of us.
By 5:30 we all piled in the van again in search of the setting sun.
We got there just in time for that golden October light.
The woodstove was lit, and another delicious meal was served.
We hung out in the toasty living room, and shared what we drew that day. Better than any crit, I tell you!
Gunnar had spent the day painting with materials he found in the barn, so we went there for a look.
The boys got another fire crackling and the night was still young.
Before we left in the morning to return to school, everyone signed the guest book, where I found this collage by Nancy Gibson Nash from last summer. It beautifully sums up the love for this amazing place!
Indeed, thank you Maine College of Art and the Paces. What a legacy you have generously shared that sparks the souls of so many. Thanks to Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd for all the planning, art supplies, and food!!!
I’m also grateful to MECA grads Liz Long and Hannah Rosegren, who filled in for my class of junior majors while I was away. I’m honored to know such fine students, both in the classroom and on the road.