Welcome Illustration MECA juniors!

Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Art Classes, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, zines | 6 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!






  1. Dear Jamie
    Reading and looking at the above made me wish I were a junior at MECA. With you as their teacher how can they go wrong!? What a journey!
    I just loved the assignment of summer sketchbooks. The one with the circle of flowers titled “Summer 2017” makes med want to see everything inside.
    LOVED all those colorful “walkers”. Also the raindrop poem, the chrysanthemum, et.,al.
    Anyway, always fun to join you on your most recent trip down memory MECA Lane!

    • thanks, Gunnel, for you great comments! I am the lucky one to be with this great group.

  2. Your wonderful ideas thrive to bring out the best your students have to offer. A real treat to have a front row seat and get to peak into the process while seeing the results. Kudos to you and your students. A match made in heaven.

  3. Love this Jamie!!! Thanks so much for sharing your process with your students and giving us a front row seat. Amazing, wonderful and eye opening.

  4. Thanks Jamie! ‘Twas a blast! Man – I think I need to find some time to do that Zine assignment – and that’s a great way to teach it: let it emerge organically. Very fun post. You’re making me miss my student days!

    • Andrew, I am glad to know you will steer this great herd next semester!

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