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!




  1. Thanks for the fab poster and the opportunity to see the show too! Awesome! Loved the live music – piano, base and of course, Billie’s voice! Quite the story. Love her music still.

    • Peg, I am grateful we could see it together. A heartbreaking play, but indeed her music keeps her alive.

  2. Another soulful recording of your work, Jamie. You work so well in words as well as pastels. I like being brought into the artist’s process of designing the posters and this one, especially, has that piano and base and incredible voice behind it that I keep hearing.

  3. So beautiful! You’re amazing! Thanks so much for sharing your process!

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