Illustration MECA field trip

Posted by on Nov 21, 2017 in Art Classes, Children's Book Illustration, Drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, Travels | 6 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 Waring, Director of Education and 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 Senrick, 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!




  1. As usual, sounds like an awesome trip! You guys get to have all the fun. I hope those kids realize how lucky they are. You are a wonderful guide dear Jamie, and, never short on inspiration. Great photos & sketches!

    • thanks for reading, Peg! Nobody gets how great art school is until years and years later. Maybe never.

  2. Love this. I have major art envy. Where was this kinda course when I was in school?! Love your sketch of the tour guide heaps.

    • thanks for reading, Nancy! So much illustration history to love, not enough time…

  3. Another wonderful trip. I’ve always loved that Norman Rockwell illustration of the man speaking in a town hall meeting. I think it illustrated the theme of Democracy. It’s a needed reminder of the power, duty and courage of free speech. Rockwell illustrated the better angels of our nature and he’s an antidote to the poison of cynicism in our culture right now. How good that younger illustrators are looking at his work with their fresh eyes.

    • Nicole, we all learned so much about Rockwell’s methods and strong beliefs. Fresh eyes, indeed! Thanks for reading and commenting with such grace.

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