String Around My Finger

Posted by on Apr 21, 2017 in Illustration, pastels, Portland Stage Company | 4 comments

Over a year ago, I read the script for Brenda Wither’s play, String Around My Finger, now in it’s final run at Portland Stage Company. As someone who has suffered infant loss, the comedic tone seemed too light then. The aftermath of such an event is devastating, confusing, and heavy. In the play, Emma’s had a miscarriage, and everyone else is ignoring her trauma, trying to keep up good cheer while navigating realities.

To tackle illustrating this, my initial ideas played with the literal visual of a string around a finger. The first was a baby hand that looms over small figures, the string swirling around a couple.


I tried a woman’s hand, with a hospital bracelet, and a group of small figures, the various characters who orbit around Emma.


The miscarriage, the medical bills, and other pressures begin to unravel the couple’s plans. I tried two figures pulling at the string of one large hand.


I tried a hospital bed, with an IV tube that would connect the title. Ugh.


Fortunately, this idea was chosen. Emma and Kip are holding on for dear life, with a wedding band and engagement ring floating around them, implying everything is up in the air.


I created each element separately on paper (the pastel background, the hand, the figures, the rings, the hand-lettered title), then scanned and merged them digitally in Photoshop. This is the final illustration.


As the 2015 winner of Portland Stage’s Clauder Competition, the script was further worked during last summer’s Little Festival of the Unexpected. Under the nimble direction of Sally Wood, the play has debuted with unexpected depth and poignancy.

When I attended last week, the sight of the hospital bed triggered my distant loss, and might for anyone who’s had to face medical realities.


Anita Stewart’s set design was brilliantly seamless, with stage crew dressed in scrubs striding in and out of gliding hospital walls as scenes changed.

Frank Sinatra music plays in the background. Here’s a drawing of Frank from an old sketchbook of mine.


You can hear his version of I’ve Got the World on a String HERE.

I’ve got the world on a string, sittin’ on a rainbow,
Got the string around my finger,
What a world, what a life, I’m in love!

Perfect lyrics that actually contrast with the ambivalent ending of the play. Go see for yourself, it’s the last weekend!



  1. Dear Jamie
    You are amazing, the way you take us along on your journey, as the artist, as the very human and sensitive person that you are. I actually choked back the tears, having known you and enjoyed your friendship for so many years now. Then your fabulous sense of humor that always trickles in. Loved your illustration of Blue Eyes! THANK YOU MY DEAR !

    • Gunnel, you are the fabulous friend for remembering and always supporting my creative work. I treasure you.

  2. Just saw it tonight with a friend. I can’t agree more with your assessment of the tone, seemingly too light. I love seeing your thoughts and process around the posters. The ultimate choice is a stunner and puts the story into perspective. Wonderful set, clever choices for changes in scenery, difficult subject matter with a noble effort to lighten the heaviness that was always there. Interesting play.

  3. beautiful Jamie. your story, the way you weave in your personal life with the script, your sketches, your art, you as a woman, a friend, a human being. grateful to have you in my life for so many years. xoxo g.

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