Illustration MECA field trip

Posted by on Nov 21, 2017 in Art Classes, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, travels | 2 comments

A week ago I traveled west with senior Illustration MECA majors, co-chaperoning another field trip led by our intrepid Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd. This time we ventured in a wagon train of cars, landing at the venerable Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. While awaiting everyone’s arrival, we ate our bag lunches in the classroom, appropriately surrounded by the drawings of young artists.

Our tour guide, Patrick O’Donnell, led us through early works by Rockwell, with the eye of a professional illustrator. We saw Rockwell’s detailed studies in charcoal pencil near the classroom. Here’s my charcoal sketch of Patrick.

We sat before each of the Four Freedoms, slowing down our looking to discover Rockwell’s calculated visual strategies. I had not seen the likeness to Abraham Lincoln before, or the symbolism of the speaker’s blue collar.

He brought us down to the archives, where Rockwell’s reference photos show the story behind his authentic realism: his models, many of whom visit the museum regularly. He pulled out Rockwell’s paintbox and some of his correspondence, including a letter from Walt Disney, which Rachel Breckenridge was thrilled to read aloud.

We then roamed about Tony di Terlizzi’s exhibit, Never Abandon Imagination.  The Class of 2016 met Tony on a previous field trip, and the opportunity to see his work was a main draw for the Class of 2018.

There’s a cool display in which Tony says he is an award-winning illustrator and a thief. He traces his borrowing to specific sources in both fine art and illustration history. Perfect examples for students to dig deep!

Illustrators get a kick out of putting themselves into their work, including Rockwell. I enjoyed spying this piece by Tony of Mo Willems and himself at a table in Paris, which appeared in their collaboration, The Story of Diva and Flea.

It was a sweet surprise to come across this exhibit about the Famous Artists School.

This was a popular correspondence course launched in 1948 by illustrator Albert Dorne. I inherited the four volume set a few years ago that belonged to my uncle, Roland Hogan. What a vintage treasure of traditional methods! Nice to see the same binders and all the ephemera together.

Some things never go out of style, such as drawing in sketchbooks. I noted one of the display’s signage read:

Time and again, Famous Artists School illustrators urged their students to steep themselves in art and experiences. For Robert Fawcett, other training was just mechanical. He advised students not to worry about technique or about the development of a “style,” noting that technique emerges from a way of thinking and feeling and that style follows naturally. Drawing on location frees the mind and the hand, and makes personal exploration with no strings attached possible…”

My students know I push sketchbooks as ultimate tools of discovery, so finding reinforcement of that philosophy is a delight.

We shopped in the store and wandered over to Rockwell’s studio. It was closed, but the fresh air and expansive views of the Berkshires as golden light settled over the hills was a perfect ending to our visit.

Next stop was Northampton where we settled into our hotel. Kids wasted no time in making for the pool!

Western Mass. is a veritable Bermuda Triangle for illustrators. We headed out in the morning for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in nearby Amherst.

Even a pile of leaves looks well-placed there.

We let our souls shine walking through the portal to the exhibit, Eric Carle: Night.

Here’s my sketch of Courtney, our welcoming guide who walked us through the galleries.

Besides all the work of Eric Carle, we saw a fantastic exhibit, Collecting Inspiration: Contemporary Illustrators and their Heroes. Curated by that dynamic duo of Mo Willems and Tony di Terlizzi, the pairings of art that illustrators bought for their own collections beside their own work, plus the fascinating stories behind them was… downright brilliant.

Nobody could resist a drawing table, c’mon.

Let it be said, the Class of 2018 is adorable.

Left to right, back row: Jennifer Olson, Katie Steere, Michaela Flint, Cara Peslak, Veronica Jones, Kat Harris, Rachel Breckenridge, Rob Mannix, Hannah Barrett. Left to right, front row: Tyler Eldridge, Amanda Wood, Aric Gross, Kolby Hildebrandt, Brittany Taylor, Jeremy Libby, and Sami Monoxelos.

We fueled up at Atkins Farms before returning to Northampton for one last destination, the R. Michelson Galleries. Located in a former bank, the galleries include a vault of priceless work. Students oohed and aahed at the actual prices. On the balcony, Sami and Kat were dwarfed by a set piece by Maurice Sendak from the opera, The Love of Three Oranges.

We hit the road for Maine full beyond words. It was a blast to witness so many worlds of illustration in the company of this year’s awesome class. Thanks to Mary Anne Lloyd and Maine College of Art for the infinite miles of inspiration!



Complications From A Fall

Posted by on Nov 13, 2017 in Illustration, Portland Stage Company | 2 comments

Kate Hawley’s script Complications From A Fall, triggered some heartache for me. Having walked that final episode of eldercare with my mother years ago, it touched a few nerves. I went looking for the walker that is still in the basement, don’t ask me why. That thing was a metaphor for my mother’s decline. I made it an element in all of my ideas for the poster for Portland Stage’s recent production.

In one scene, Elizabeth, the aging mother, sets fire to some old letters. It seemed very direct to visualize the walker falling in flames.

Maybe too direct. So I tried variations with people.

In this idea, Elizabeth’s son, Teddy, has arrived to take over the eldercare from his uptight sister, Helen, while she attends, of all things, an Ibsen conference. Eldercare throws everything out of whack, family roles and identities are in a disorienting suspension. Teddy spends part of the play on the couch, drinking from his flask of Scotch.

Here the walker in the foreground dominates the scene. Like Elizabeth’s care literally does.

I tried three silhouettes, of Elizabeth, of Helen with her luggage, and of Lucy, the young caregiver. Teddy’s face is in the glass.

Medications are the dominant element in this one. So much of eldercare rests on them.

Marketing director Eileen Phelan asked to see some ideas without booze or drugs. I revised a previous sketch to include Helen and Teddy in the background.

I reversed the emphasis here, with the siblings in the foreground, Elizabeth burning an old letter in the background.

This sketch made the cut.

For the final illustration, I decided to keep the center bright, like a flame in a field of blue. Had a blast just making textures in pastel.

The linear figures were digitally layered over the drawn background. Fun to see the poster appear in the New Yorker!

All the posters for this season were done in a feverish rush between January and March. Normally I like to attend the shows early in their run. But, Portland Stage has so much goodness going on. Instead we saw The Haunting Hour in late October, which was crazy creepy good.

We saw the show on Friday night, and it was deeper and funnier than I expected. That would be stellar direction by Paul Mullins and performances by Maureen Butler (a regular favorite of mine) and Erik Saxvik. The set design was brilliant, with all the touches of Elizabeth’s home tidy and ready for the emotional unraveling to come.

My theater dates clearly enjoyed it. Thanks to amazing actress Moira Driscoll for taking this photo.

Complications From A Fall hit all the still tender spots, but with compassion. The last chapter for one’s parents can be disorienting, yet so important to bear witness.

Gunnel Larsdotter wrote to me afterwards, “Staging, incredibly well done. The play also gave us things of both serious and not so serious nature to ponder. “Elizabeth” -the lead – a super star!”

Tonight is the last performance. I truly hope you saw it.










Vermont vibes

Posted by on Nov 10, 2017 in drawing, pastels, travels | 2 comments

What a gadabout autumn we’ve had. Last weekend we headed to Vermont for the first time in ages, to the rustic getaway house of my Kittery cousins, Mike and Wanda. They bought land from Mike’s brother Joe, a retired dairy farmer, Vietnam vet, and thespian. We were lucky to find the place in the remote hills of Marshfield just before dusk.

While others were upset about losing power, this is how they roll there, off the grid. Dinner by candlelight with long stories. Mike did the dishes under a solar lamp.

What a difference the sun makes!

Spied this dear painting by their daughter, the famous artist and educator Mati Rose.

We headed out under brisk skies for a long walk to nearby farms.

Joe’s barn is home to new calves.

Up and down some steep hills and then there were sheep.

After returning to the house for lunch, we then drove around the backroads, stopping at Hollister Hill Farm, where I was smitten by the pigs. In every stall there were piles of them dreaming, ignoring the cawing of this rooster.

Mike strolled around outside while we considered the farm products.

I sketched these today.

We drove into Montpelier. Outside of town, I saw this steeple.

Marty liked this stone truck.

I made Mike stop the car when I spotted a labyrinth, which I walked with contentment.

We went past Maple Corner, an old mill house, and many, many cows. Back at the house, Wanda made pizza.

I have these two to thank for introducing me to the mellow vibe of Maine, way back in the 80’s when I was madly buzzing about Boston. Thanks, Mike and Wanda, for getting us off the grid and into the heart of Vermont.

We left early Monday morning to head back to work. This scarecrow deserved a proper farewell.

I think I’ll be drawing pigs and cows and hills for awhile.



Pub Day for Ana and the Sea Star!

Posted by on Nov 7, 2017 in Ana and the Sea Star, Children's Book Illustration, Illustration, school visits, Tilbury House | 6 comments

Finally, today is THE DAY!!! My twelfth book is real.

Ana and the Sea Star by R. Lynne Roelfs is published! It is a small miracle when ideas manifest into a real book. When I first read the manuscript in July of 2016, it felt authentic, the story of finding a starfish. My photo below is evidence of that time a sea star washed into a Peaks Island tide pool a summer ago, and was gently placed back in the ocean.

First I sketched out a rough storyboard, deciding what to show, the flow of the visuals, and varying points of view.

I contacted some island neighbors to model for me. The lovely Schuit family met me at Sandy Beach on Peaks Island on Labor Day weekend of 2016. I read them the story and watched their daughter, Zoe, effortlessly become the character of Ana. With multiple photo references, I made a rough dummy to send to Tilbury House. It took two, in fact. I drew from a sea star from my collection of nature objects that also appeared in Seven Days of Daisy many years ago.

By the time I began final illustrations, I had piles of photos, sketches, and pastels on hand.

Photographs are handy, but imagination had to kick in, just like for Ana, when envisioning the sea star’s journey underwater.

I made numerous cover sketches; this one was chosen by the publisher. I mocked up the title with my own lettering.

This is the final illustration.

In early February of 2017, I shipped off the originals just as a storm was due to hit the Maine coast, crossing my fingers. When the box of books arrived 8 months later, I eagerly photographed them on a glorious October day in their natural habitat.

This past Saturday, I kicked off the 11th Family Literacy Fun Day in Windham with a showcase of other Maine authors and illustrators . After sharing a presentation on my work and process, I met some great kids curious about picture books.

I had a crew of boys very intent on trying the sanded paper I use, as well as the pastels and pencils from my stash of supplies.

Lucas-James Renaud, a fourth grader, asked me to show him how I began. I started a rough sketch of Ana, and he then drew in her legs and the entire background, with a beach, clouds, seagulls, and so much detail. Wow! Nice illustration, Lucas! He has my favorite blues down.

I managed to catch the final presenter, the wonderful book artist, Rachel E. Church. She showed us her many methods of printmaking and various forms of book binding. When she pulled out her handmade accordion book, titled The Blue Book: A History of Cyanotype and the Book, we ALL swooned. Look at the seaweed splashing across the pages! Ana would just dive in.

Thanks to Windham Raymond Adult Education for hosting me.

A celebration and book launch for Ana and the Sea Star will be on November 18 at the Peaks Island Branch Library. The event will be in their temporary home at the Peaks Island Elementary School.

Or if you can’t sail the seas, come to Portland’s PRINT: a bookstore for their Children’s Book Holiday Mingle on Dec. 10. I want to meet you!




October vibes at Moody Point

Posted by on Oct 28, 2017 in A Porcupine's Promenade, drawing, travels | 2 comments

October adventures abound. Last week we had the pleasure of staying in an antique cottage at Moody Point, thanks to Brian and Lyn Smith. It’s only a short ride from Portland but the outing hit the refresh button immediately. We stopped in to peek at the new Mothers Wing at the Graves Memorial Library and then visited the Corey Daniels Gallery. That place is full of wonders.

Being the lunatic I am, I saw moons and eclipses in this series of Portals by Harrison Walker.

No surprise I was drawn to Sarah Bouchard’s Orbs. They breathe so well next to Corey’s wood sculptures.

The Smith Cottage stands out, in charm and age. It was built in the mid 1800’s by a German fellow who was the first to settle on Moody Point.

Filled with antiques, seaside souvenirs, and homespun crafts, the warm presence of family history wraps around you.

We headed straight to the beach, smooth as glass.

Later our hosts walked down the street from their nearby house to join us for dinner. Marty gave Brian some beer that sports his illustration.

After hearing tales about his field trip with sixth graders to Mount Agamenticus, we decided to go the next day. Along Route 1, signs of the season were abundant.

As a White Mountain native, I was happy to hike some trails at last.

Remnants of old ski lifts are like surprise sculptures.

We encountered another sixth grade field trip at the top. The view went for days.

After the hike back down, we returned to the cottage, where I drew for awhile on the porch. There’s a landmark across the intersection that isn’t really a lighthouse, but provided a good challenge of form and shadow.

I only packed small pieces of paper and one box of Terry Ludwig pastels. Enough to keep me out of trouble.

Another walk on the beach in a different direction but at just the right slant of fading light…

This time we headed to Brian and Lyn’s house for wine, stories, and pizza. I spied Lyn’s corner of writing inspiration.

Saturday was just as clear and glorious. We hopped all the way out to the end of the jetty. This boy seemed to jump out of my Island Birthday illustrations!

Our lazy afternoon at the cottage was full of reading and writing and just watching the world go by. We found our way to Earth at Hidden Pond for dinner. Very cool vibe, surrounded by wood, literally and figuratively.

No sign of a pond, though. Does a groovy pool count?

Glad we had Google to guide us home past the ghouls in them lonely woods.

Sunday was less sunny but with silvery skies. We walked over to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge where the marshes are dotted with mirrors.

I drew some more back at the cottage.

We met up with Brian and Lyn for an afternoon trek at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. What stunning sculptures in a lovely setting! This granite pair by Jordan Smith echoes the landscape.

We all were spellbound by this towering creature of periwinkle shells. By my dear friend Pamela Moulton!

The trails fork through forests and past estuaries.

We saw where the Little River meets the sea.

photo by Brian Smith

The driftwood is natural sculpture and a fine perch for Brian and Marty.

This granite piece, Owl Rising, by Andreas Von Huene bid us farewell.

Many thanks to Lyn and Brian for sharing their wild habitat with us!

Jamie Hogan, Marty Braun, and Lyn Smith photo by Brian Smith

Next Saturday I’ll be at the Windham Primary School at 10 AM for their Family Literacy Fun Day talking about my newest book, Ana and the Sea Star. I’d love to see you there!




A slice of heaven at Haystack

Posted by on Oct 13, 2017 in drawing, travels | 16 comments

Haystack Mountain School of Craft’s legendary Open Door has been on my radar for awhile. This was the year I threw my name into the lottery aimed exclusively at Mainers for a three-day intensive of creative immersion and GOT IN, hallelujah! I gleefully made the 4 hour drive from Portland to Deer Isle last Friday.

I’ve visited Haystack before, just to marvel at the steep spine of stairs down to the ocean’s edge. Now I could actually stay.

Everything is rustic, with striking architecture and slanting light. I was the first to check into my cabin. I found out later in the evening that RISD President Rosanne Somerson designed the new beds, which were perfect for dreaming.

I followed a nearby trail through piney woods to the rocky shore. While the light slipped away, I sketched this boulder that looked like a frog.

The food is fabled to be the best ever. And it’s true! Every meal was like a Thanksgiving table of plenty.

During a welcome session after dinner, I learned about the founder, Mary Beasom Bishop, and the influence other schools of craft, such as Penland, Black Mountain School, and Cranbrook, had on her strong belief in creative community.

We headed to our respective studios, where this sweet stash of supplies awaited students in Christine Mauersberger’s Mindful Stitching workshop.

We made introductions, and heard what brought each of us to the table. Among us were textile artists, knitters, a middle school teacher, a potter, a painter, a therapist. All of us drawn to the word mindful.

Christine quoted the poet Mary Oliver, inviting us to “tap into the wild silky part of ourselves.” This is one of Christine’s stunning works in progress in the foreground below.

Under bright moonlight, we headed to our cabins, eager for the next day. Saturday’s studio session began with a simple drawing prompt: draw a spiral with lines as close as possible.

That opened our focus to stitch a circle. Next we drew lines that were the length of our breath. Many lines on paper, inhale and exhales, which were then transferred to cloth. Slow stitching began. As the early morning fog burned off, the sun emerged, drawing us outside. Christine led us down, down, down the steps.

Past my cabin 24.

Through the shadowy forest to the sparkling shore.

Kyra’s stretch seems to hold up the sky.

Christina read a quote by Agnes Martin: “It is so hard to slow down to the pace where it is possible to explore one’s mind.”

Walking back for lunch, I noticed a circle of moss, like a moon on the forest floor.

Maybe Pettina saw it, too. I love the striking contrast here!

This is Christina’s graceful lettering of a Rumi quote. We all slipped into our intuitive marks.

Here’s another translation of the drawn to the stitched by Christina. She said, “Let drawings crafted by your senses shape your meandering thoughts.”

Here is the magnificent evidence of Susan’s breath.

The weather changed quickly, kicking up a sudden shower.

Saturday night’s dessert was like birthday cake to infinity.

We gathered for presentations from three of the teaching artists, Holly Walker, Dietlind Vander Schaaf, and Annie Finch. All of them spoke in ideas that overlapped. Holly talked about the “tempo fluctuating” in her ceramics, and she uses “cursive surfaces” to create her playful forms. Dietlind talked about “seeking stillness” with yoga and finding the meditative state of her interior landscapes, using line and pattern to discover natural beauty amid decay. Annie performed several poems, one fragment of which I jotted down: Point your fire like a flower.

That line still rang in my head on Sunday morning when Christine gave us another drawing prompt. She asked us to draw the outline of our fingertips, then remove our hand from the paper and keep drawing whatever came to mind. The drawing on the right became the stitching on the left, as the day moved on.

Here is a bold collage with shape and pattern by Jess.

Chris stitched over gorgeous fabric she had hand-dyed previously so that her circle floats dreamily in space.

Even the gong in the dining hall was speaking to me!

Christine was ever vivacious, full of stories, inspiring words, and demonstrations of her methods. Here she is talking salt: how spilling salt on black paper can trigger intuitive marks, too.

Like on this black wool skirt she stitched after drawing with her finger in a pile of salt.

This is Andrea’s salt stitching, like comets soaring across the sky over swirling seas


The wind was wild that day. Talk about swirly seas! I visited the rocks when the high tide surged into every crevice.

Bobbi tore some white fabric, creating positive shapes against black linen. Everyone was amazing me with their responses to the materials!

Ginger used her nature studies as inspiration.

Ingrid made cool collages with fabric bits. And how about that skirt?

Jennifer made this exquisitely layered stitching on a vintage tablecloth.

Julie stitched this exuberant whimsy inspired by the fingertip drawing prompt. It pulses with joy.

Kyra was having a blast with her playful circles and looping lines.

Kelly’s stack of circles are like a goddess figure of spinning forms.

On Sunday night, we saw presentations from the remaining teaching artists: Tanya Crane, Jenna Goldberg, Aaron Beck, and Christine Mauersberger. I felt deeply full, from the last supper and their combined wisdom.

On Monday morning, we secretly made a collective stitching to offer our gratitude to Christine.

We cleared up our studio, pinned our works to the walls, and shared the highs, lows, and what we will take away from the workshop. I confess I got totally choked up by the revelations and joys shared.

At 11 AM, the open studios walk through began. Next door in Dietlind Vander Schaaf’s encaustic painting class, I saw tremendous simpatico with our class, particularly in this piece by Kimberly.

Loved this piece by Lori !

I ran into a former MECA student of mine, Erika. She was in a 2D design class many years ago, and is now the co-owner of Norway Brewing. She still has her pattern theory down, with these lovely odes to the hop in Tanya Crane’s Enamel Mosaics workshop.

These pieces by Lauren are like cairns of magic.

Clearly the clay folks had too much fun as well.

Rebecca’s plates make great use of pattern play.

I was dazzled by the Band Saw Boxes in Jenna Goldberg’s workshop. This interior by Sarah is divine.

The TA for the workshop, Aaron, made this swanky thing. I could efficiently store all my favorite pastels in here.

Even the writing students got into the visual with colorful mandalas of words!

The blacksmithing workshop focused on making chess sets, among other things. This is by Michael, a former Peaks Islander and founder of Sacred and Profane.

The whole class made a collective set, too.

The serenity of boulders and fragrant pines was hard to leave.

I went back to the fiber studio. This piece of mine began with that first circle, and kept my wandering thoughts on every stitch.

Christine’s words on the blackboard said it all.

Thank you, Haystack! Thank you, Christine! My soul feasted on your unforgettable beauty in the company of incredible artists. What good fortune to take away all the moments of play, new connections, and a swirl of inspiration.








Lady Day in moonlight

Posted by on Oct 5, 2017 in Illustration, pastels, Portland Stage Company | 4 comments

These are just a few of the records I grew up with. My parents were into jazz. I heard Billie Holiday long before I knew her name. Sarah, Billie, and Ella were my mother’s favorites; Duke, Satchmo, and Coltrane were my dad’s.

These were the faces on the records, but in fact I went all through elementary grades and high school without having a single person of color in my classes, or in my small world in rural New Hampshire. That changed in art school and beyond, but those soulful voices remain somehow elemental for me.

The script for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill by Lanie Robertson, currently at Portland Stage, is an intimate and revealing dialogue between the singer and her audience. When I began sketching, I couldn’t get around the obvious setting of Billie, the spotlight, and a piano player. But I tried many variations.

From behind, as the title appears in the spotlight on her, with a drink on the piano.

Two figures beneath boxes of type…

The piano player in foreground, singer in spotlight. Always working around the necessary titles, in this case a long one.

The drink on the piano is a necessary prop. I added a gardenia in the background here.

More emphasis on faces here.

Working the text into her dress…

I tried cropping out the face, Billie leaning on the piano.

It was this direction that went forward. How I love my blue pastels! I like to keep my strokes as fresh as possible.

I drew a gardenia separately and it was layered in Photoshop along with type.

I worked on the illustration last January, but was super eager to see how director Kevin. R. Free brought it all together last Friday night.

The bar looked inviting, and the musicians played a set before the performance began.

Gary Mitchell, Jr. on piano, Ross Gallagher on base

Tracy Conyer Lee was downright stunning, as singer and actress. What she brought forth has to be seen and heard. I got choked up the minute she began singing. And it just got deeper. The history that spills is not just Billie’s. She sings and tells hard truths. Go see it. Go feel it.

She sings about moonlight, and the word becomes code for something else. This production is unforgettable. If you need more reviews, there are plenty here. Thank you, Portland Stage!



Welcome Illustration MECA juniors!

Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Art Classes, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, zines | 5 comments

My heart sang to spot this chalk drawing by Illustration MECA grad, Liz Long, greeting all of us returning to the hive at Maine College of Art in late August. The fall semester is in full swing, entering the second month. My class of junior majors brought in the summer sketchbooks I gave them last April.

I had given them some prompts, such as making a list of their 7 favorite things to draw, and drawing them by observation, from memory, and in color. We began our introductions by viewing their sketchbooks. Here’s a snapshot of the wonders therein.

Meghan McDunnah drew full-lipped expressions.

Ellie Cania illustrated a poem in raindrops.

Em Carlson drew an imagined character from a dream.

Jenna Zammett drew inspiration from a fortune, which reads The saints are the sinners who keep on trying.

Fred Aldrich drew a stylish character. Sinner or saint? Only his pencil knows.

Sam Myrdek drew her adorable dog.

Alice Eafrati drew a side-glancing girl.

Elliot’s hybrid creature surely has a backstory.

Hannah Stritch’s rad dude is loud and clear.

Jacob Papciak’s skulls are drawn from memory, reference, and with blue.

Sarah Sawtelle captured a crowd of walkers.

Lauren Merritt has a thing for dragons.

Meaghan Chandonnet likes drawing from random photos she finds of interest.

Owen Scott lets his line loose on a stampede of cows.

Stephanie Henry drew a detailed chrysanthemum.

Carla Nunez-Hernandez painted and inked and drew, adding decorative tape to the visual buffet.

For the first project, I asked students to find a seed within their sketchbooks to inspire a zine. Zines are defined as handmade magazines, a mini self-published pamphlet that can tell any story under the sun. I’m a dedicated believer in the power of zines to communicate ideas that can be broad or personal. I’m also a zine maker and avid collector. I brought in just a small pile of my volumes to share.

I left my copy of Whatcha Mean Whatza Zine? in the studio and gave them a week to come up with their zine.

Meanwhile, MECA enjoyed a timely visit from award-winning graphic novelist Mimi Pond.

She talked about her latest book, The Customer Is Always Wrong, which began as a manuscript until she realized the tale of working in a diner in Oakland, CA in the 70’s had to be drawn. “You have to love to draw,” she said, adding that “with fiction you can make shit up.”

Sure enough, the following week, students were ready to fold and trim their editions, and just look at this pile of published wonders!

Right now juniors are working on Project 2, illustrating a figure in an invented environment with spatial depth, a typical challenge in the field of illustration. Illustrator and educator Drew Degraff visited class to share his professional wisdom.

He brought his ink bottle and brush, Vellum Bristol paper, watercolor paints, a portable Epson scanner, and his laptop, essentially his portable studio. Chatting away while working on a current assignment for Sports Illustrated, he confessed, “I found sketching really difficult in school.” But now he “dashes off 20 thumbnails to get the juices flowing” and his “sketchbooks are a catch-all for the detritus in my brain.”

Drew will choose a well worked out sketch and then do a 3 color break-down in red, black, and yellow.

Thinking in separated color like a silkscreen helps define his color scheme for digital manipulation. While he scanned the work, he talked about his influences from art history: Paul Klee, Ben Shahn, George Grosz, and contemporary illustrators Dave McKean and Barry McGee.

He flicked through layers in Photoshop to add color areas and textures. Talking about his journey in art, he embraced the “bootstrap meritocracy” of making art publicly and once made $600 in a day, painting small scenes of lighthouses in Ocean Park and selling them on the spot.

One student asked him about subject matter, where to begin? He quickly replied, “pop culture.” It is accessible to all, yet he emphasized there is “a BIG divide between fan art and pop commentary.” He began creating complex maps of his favorite films, large original paintings that have recently been published as a book, Cinemaps, an Atlas of 35 Great Movies. He advised, “Know your art history backwards and forwards!”

Two of his sketchbooks made the rounds while he spoke.


He carries a small sketchbook that fits into his back pocket, for drawing the mental snapshots of recalled faces.

He said, “if you don’t serve the idea, it’s just visual masterbation,” and it’s better to “do one note well” in a single illustration. He shared the work of colleagues Chris Neal, Sam Weber, Mark Ryden, and Marcel Zama as examples of illustrators following their own beats. Thanks, Drew, for all the inspiration!

A few days later, he emailed me, saying “I did my homework!” Here is Drew’s final illustration of Rafael Nadal.

Meanwhile, my class labors on with their work. I am eager to see tomorrow how they have refined their illustrations. MECA is ever shining with their energy!





More more ii

Posted by on Sep 8, 2017 in comics, drawing, Illustration, Illustration Institute, Maine College of Art, Peaks Island | 0 comments

The seeds of the recent residencies at the Illustration Institute’s Marilyn Faison Artist Residency were possibly planted in the spring of 2016, when Maine College of Art Illustration faculty Scott Nash invited Emily Flake and Bob Mankoff to a screening of Very Semi Serious, a fantastic documentary in which they both appear, about New Yorker cartoonists. They were like sit-down comedians on the Portland Museum of Art stage afterwards.

Fast forward to this August, when Emily Flake filled the Fifth Maine to capacity, as the setting sun made the audience beautiful.

Emily shared a presentation of her early illustration work and New Yorker cartoons, followed by several that did not make publication. Her ribald humor and salty wit kept the room laughing til way past dark.

When she saw the work of Edward Gorey and Gahan Wilson at the tender age of five, she knew then and there she wanted to be a cartoonist. As New Yorker cartoonists go, she said, “I’m a baby.” Her first one appeared in 2008, and she submits 8 – 12 cartoons a week, with the approach “send in everything to see if it sticks.”

She also read excerpts from her book, Mama Tried. Here’s my sketch.

The following night, fellow Faison resident Wayne White was present for a screening at the Peaks Island Lions Club of Beauty is Embarrassing, a stellar documentary about his life and work.

Three Illustration MECA grads sailed out to Peaks for this illustrious occasion.

Liz Long, Molly Steinmetz, and Andi Croak

The film was properly introduced by Illustration Institute co-directors Scott and Nancy Nash, with the adorable help of Emily’s daughter.

Andi Croak watched while stitching this. Because.

And Molly captured Wayne and his partner, Mimi Pond in her sketchbook, on the spot.

Liz made these paintings to give to Wayne and Mimi.

During Wayne’s heartfelt Q & A after the screening, he admitted the film has been a strange experience, saying “being a public figure is treacherous.” But he added, “Most artists are introverts. I’m not a fragile wierdo. We all have art inside us.”

Liz and Molly were thrilled to meet Wayne at last.

Today I drew Wayne in my sketchbook, but got carried away with a collage appendage in honor of his Dirty Dog puppet character from Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I remain a fan of that crazy show.

Mimi Pond gave a presentation two days later at Maine College of Art to a full house, reading from her latest graphic novel, The Customer is Always Wrong. She is on one bombshell of a book tour, which you can follow here.

Her book is a sequel to Over Easy, a fictionalized memoir of her alter ego, Madge, an art student working in a cafe in Oakland, California in the 70’s. For quite awhile, the story was in manuscript form. Mimi told us she was inspired by Fun Home, by another cartoonist, Alison Bechdel. Women pioneers do matter.

You need to have both books! And strong coffee. Something about the color harmony here, plus Mimi’s hair color, compelled me to draw.

I drew Mimi serving up the hottest cuppa humor in the joint.

These three ii events also coincided with the new semester beginning at MECA. What an all-you-can-eat buffet week!

Last Friday I turned to baking pies. I didn’t want to intrude on the woodsy privacy of the Faison residents, but felt every bit the fan girl dropping off my plates of thanks.

Thanks to Emily, Wayne, and Mimi for the wisdom and creativity y’all brought to our Rock. May Peaks Island and the Illustration Institute feed our souls in need of humor, art, and good books!







Postcards from the Rock

Posted by on Aug 31, 2017 in Charlesbridge Publishing, curious city, drawing, Illustration, Illustration Institute, Maine College of Art, Peaks Island, Portland Stage Company, Tiger Boy, Tilbury House | 1 comment

I have always been a snail mailer. Even when I was growing up at the Red Doors Motel, I cultivated pen pals. Creating post card promotions as an illustrator is one occupational hazard that I enjoy. These are just a handful from many years of mailing out samples.

Here’s the scoop behind my most recent postcard, Summer in the Slow Lane.

I’ve always hankered for little campers and the time to take road trips. I made a sketch on the ferry one day based on a photo I took a few years ago on the way to Stonington, Maine.

Kirsten Cappy happily modeled inside this camper we spied for sale along Route 1.

She recently sent me this photo which sparked an idea.

My sketch got a little more specific, working within the post card proportions.

While I’m awaiting the publication in October of Ana and the Sea Star, I decided to have Ana in the scene, too. Peaks Islander, Zoe, was the model for my Ana illustrations. She showed up for the photo shoot last September in the most adorable dress that I LOVED drawing.

I drew on blue paper, bringing out bright colors, and added a turtle friend.

This is the final illustration.

The truth is, this summer has been anything but slow. I’ve only had a chance to mail out about half my batch. There’s been a bounty of activity on Peaks, thanks to the Illustration Institute. I’ll spill tales about that soon, but right now I am super excited to see Mimi Pond tonight at Osher Hall at Maine College of Art! Her latest graphic novel, The Customer Is Always Wrong, features a waitress facing a cast of characters in Oakland, CA.

I can relate. I waitressed my share during college years. That experience shaped my serving powers in many ways, becoming a visual metaphor in a couple of very early postcards I created.

Drawing on demand is not for everybody!  Yet I tell my illustration students: a bad day illustrating is better than a good day waitressing. This postcard is from ages ago, when I used gouache on regular basis.

In other news, Tiger Boy has been released in Japan! I am thrilled to see how they used one of my interior illustrations from the hard cover version on this one.

Biggest surprise of all: coming home last night to find my illustration for Portland Stage in the New Yorker!

My island neighbor and biggest fan, Ann Hinderer, wasted no time in mailing me her congratulations. I mean, it’s a regional ad placement not a direct job for the New Yorker, but still. That’s life on a big rock in a blue bay.