Working with Side x Side, Portland’s coup in the name of arts integration, has been truly satisfying, as well as a juggle. This spring I visited three schools, East End, Reiche, and Ocean Avenue Elementary, where our Land Forms project had a happy culmination. I attended last week’s Summer Arts Institute at the Portland Museum of Art along with a hearty crowd of teachers on their first day of summer vacation. Now that’s dedication!
Mark Bessire, Director of the PMA, welcomed us and our coffee into the auditorium. He introduced Mayor Ethan Strimling, who supports the arts, telling us that he came from a theater family, and earned a degree at Julliard.
After remarks from USM Provost Jeannine Uzzi and Side x Side Executive Director Beth Wilbur Van Mierlo, we were led through an exercise in Visual Thinking Strategies by the awesome Jenn DePrizio, PMA Director of Learning and Interpretation. So cool, I sketched her later.
The crowd was divided into groups, and mine went directly to a small gallery of landscape paintings. Jenn read us a poem, Peregrination by Billy Collins, and we were asked to imagine a walk into a painting of our choice. I chose Salt Marshes Newburyport Massachusetts by Martin Johnson Heade. We were prompted with the first two words for each line. Are you ready? Here’s mine:
I will skirt the snaking curve of mirrored water
And walk through the knee-deep clover
With this feather of joy dropped from a billowing sky
I will hear birdsong even in the shadows
And seek the skittering sunshine
Until the day is done.
And then, carrying these memories
I will become the salt marsh
Until the ripples vanish
And finally I know myself.
From there, we looked at a John Singer Sargent painting for two minutes, then turned our back on it, writing all the details we noticed. See, it’s all about the noticing. But our next exercise was about embodiment, with Side x Side teaching artist, Gretchen Berg. She gave my group a list of six instructions involving a painting, Icelandic Picnic by Louisa Matthiasdottir. We made a “frozen tableau” with our group of something before the moment of the painting, the actual scene, and something after. Great icebreaker! Here’s a glimpse of another group’s tableau in another gallery.
Next we regrouped in the auditorium where Side x Side teaching artist Laurie Downey led us through a sketching prompt, to draw anything from our pockets or bags after looking at it for a full two minutes. Slow down that looking. She’s been using sketchbooks for students to draw, doodle, make sense of their city. She collects them all and creates murals about place from selected student drawings.
I drew my trusty Ray Bans.
After a delicious lunch break, my group headed to Pamela Moulton’s studio, where her incredible art kept us company. That’s Pamela on the left, USM student teacher, Hannah Manning, Ocean Avenue second grade teachers, Kelley Nogar and Erin Partridge, Ocean Avenue art teacher, Sally Mitchell, myself, and USM student teacher, Kaczmarek. What a team!
I started us all out with boxes of natural objects to draw. This is Pat’s elegant drawing of a crab part, in which she let the shapes flow diagonally across the page.
The drawing led us into thinking out loud about the next Land Forms project, and we brainstormed a ton. Near the end of our session, Side x Side teaching artists Meg Christie and Geep got us moving with physical theater games. A perfect way to work off all the afternoon snacks that were delivered.
The next morning, we met back at Pamela’s studio with a wee surprise for Erin.
A little celebration was a good kick-off for our sculpting project. I sketched out the shape of the Portland peninsula on a wooden board, and all hands began shaping newspapers into the forms.
We used colored tape and fiber optics to define the forms. A birthday party noise-maker became the Portland Observatory.
We settled down again for drawing, this time with a box of my Terry Ludwig pastels.
Spontaneously there was color heaven. Here’s Kelley’s on the left, and Sally’s on the right, tall vistas of pigment.
Pat (top) and Hannah (bottom) chose the horizontal approach with vivid lushness.
Erin and I had full moons on our minds. Erin’s are the top and right, both dreamy abstractions.
Pamela pulled out her bounty of costumes, as we decided to make a bouncy entrance when presenting our work back at the PMA after lunch.
Hannah is having too much fun.
The first group presented some incredible pop-up books made with collage and paste papers.
Nance Parker’s group had made fantastic ocean animals with paper mache. Check out this gull!
The third grade group drew locations around Portland, and acted out what they did there.
And the last group made films inspired by creative obstacles. Whew!
Bravo Side x Side for another fantastic whirlwind creative blast. See you all this fall with new ideas!
Last Tuesday I visited the Weymouth Waterfront Library on the last day of my MECA residency. What a blast! The library sits, literally, at the edge of a salt marsh on the Sissiboo River in Nova Scotia.
I visited the day after my arrival to meet their gracious library clerk, Margaret Thibault, who invited me to share my children’s book illustration with two grades in Azure Thurber’s French Immersion classes from the nearby Weymouth Consolidated School. I made a quick flyer from my pastel of the view from the Jenny Family Compound. It was a kick to find that Margaret had posted it at Frenchy’s, where I found a polka dot shirt perfect for my visit.
My display was in a corner of the kid’s section, full of French language picture books. The area is historically rich with French settlers and proud Acadian heritage.
This is Margaret, on the left, amidst an eager swarm of students. Thank you for hosting me!
After briefly talking about my background as an illustrator, and showing my sketches and process for Here Come the Humpbacks, the best part comes: inviting everyone to draw. I’m always amazed at the results. I like the transparent shading on this spouty baby humpback in shallow waters.
I enjoy the expressions on all the sealife here.
Ethan gave me his drawing with a big ship teetering on the ocean above a happy humpback.
The narrative qualities and joy shine through in this bold sunset scene.
Keep in mind nobody had reference. These were all spontaneous drawings. Great movement in this breaching humpback.
Not everyone was in a whale mood. One boy asked if he could draw his dog. Of course! I love this comic profile.
Who could resist this friendly guy? These two should meet in a storybook.
How about this eagle? Shortly after my visit, while walking near the Jenny house, we saw a bald eagle soaring.
After the kids drew, we gathered again to talk about what we noticed about the drawings. It’s a good exercise in visual literacy and I encouraged them all to hang up their work in their classrooms, and to talk about them. Keep drawing, all summer long, and notice how pictures tell a story in whatever book you read!
I hung out in the library for awhile, talking with a former teacher, and then Keegan, who goes to another school but wanted to meet an illustrator. He dove right into my box of pastels, and told me all about winning a bicycle.
He wasn’t afraid to wear his colors!
The view from the back of the library kept changing, as the clouds parted and the tide came in. I drew this quick pastel as gratitude for my visit.
Thank you, Weymouth Waterfront Library, it was an honor to draw with your young artists and readers. Here’s to a summer of good books!
I am fresh back from a divine two weeks, thanks to Maine College of Art’s Baie Ste Marie Residency. As an adjunct professor at MECA since 2003, I was unaware of the deep renewal a residency can offer until I lucked into three nights at the Pace House a few years ago. Since then, I’ve had my eye on this opportunity in Nova Scotia, a beloved place of family ties and epic light. Thanks to the Jenny family, the house overlooking St. Mary’s Bay in New Edinburgh has provided inspiration for MECA alumni, faculty, and staff since 2009.
Our journey began by driving from Portland, Maine to St. John, New Brunswick, a five hour drive. We stayed at the charming Earl of Leinster Inn, with a breakfast the next morning that filled us to the brim. Bay Ferries now has two sailings across the Bay of Fundy, we opted for the afternoon run during which I did this sketch from the sunny deck of the M V Fundy Rose.
Upon arrival in Digby, we drove less than an hour to where the Sissiboo River meets the ocean, and the Jenny Family Compound boasts spectacular views and curious collections of critter bones.
Not hard at all to find sources of interest for sketching!
Marty enjoyed making small translations of the view down the road. The ever-changing light was magical.
For me, it was time to write, at last. I used the residency to dust off a fiction piece that has been on a back burner for too long. We spied this sign on a trip to Robicheau’s for dinner in Saulnierville.
A card table, a window, raucous crows, and a salty cat ambling by became my writing prompts.
Meanwhile, Marty scouted the area and sketched also. We took breaks for exploring the local rocky beaches.
There’s a defunct fish plant down the road which became a regular destination for walks.
In the other direction, there were horses to watch, and cormorants basking on boulders in the sea.
The absolute luxury was permission to stay put. Life on Peaks Island is a constant coming and going. Our time at the Jenny House was serenely stationary, for the most part. Before writing one morning I drew from the side porch.
The road turns just beyond this cluster of simple houses that became a visual fixation.
A windy picnic on the rocks allowed a quick capturing of the fog parting like feathers over the Baie.
The light there seems to last until almost 10 PM. We drove to Belliveau Cove. I have a fond curiosity for the variety of lighthouses in Canada, quite often well-preserved structures with unique stories. Plus, they all have red doors. I grew up at the Red Doors Motel, remember?
And another day, we crunched around the low low tide at the Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse, nearly lost in the fog.
Marty used a TV table for his portable studio. Every window was a worthwhile location.
There are several out buildings, including a shed, a barn, a log cabin, even a treehouse. Marty drew them all.
Here’s my quick sketch of the faded red barn.
I eventually found my way into the newest shed, meant for writing.
This was helpful when Daisy and August visited. They found every toy and game, from BB guns to arrows.
Meanwhile, Marty made art for mailing, adding splashes of color to his studies.
We watched a few boats that circled the Baie, and I sketched this one as the fog swirled.
After writing all day, we took a drive down Digby Neck, curious about the other side. We drove into Little River Cove, where the boat I had sketched was unloading their haul. Hello, Slave Driver.
Caught a ferry from East Ferry over to Long Island, about a 5 minute trip. The Petite Princess works the passage every half hour, 24 hours a day! That’s service. And surprise! From the mist appeared this beauty, the Boars Head Light.
We headed to Balancing Rock, well-marked at the end of a long trail through skunk cabbage, lichen, bunchberry, and black pines. Oh, and about 250 steps down to a viewing platform, next to this precarious column of basalt.
Back at the Jenny House, in time for the light show of a setting moon.
I have Peaks Island neighbor and author Nicole d’Entremont to thank, for sparking my writing and supporting my efforts with a steady hand. She spends much of her summers at her ancestral home in nearby Pubnico. She arrived for a visit in time for the peonies popping.
The residency also entails some form of open studio that engages the local community.
I’ll share in another post the blast I had at the Weymouth Waterfront Library with a crowd of local kids.
Our last evening I drew the changing dusk.
We were reluctant to leave. My gratitude is bottomless to the Jenny family and Maine College of Art. The two weeks of space and time to reflect, renew, and create was a priceless package I will unwrap for a long time.
When award-winning children’s book author Cynthia Lord invited illustrators to come sketch the baby bunnies she’s been fostering, I was so there. I’ve followed her regular posts on Facebook, and did this sketch of Benjamin, a Netherland Dwarf rabbit she brought home from Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue.
She also brought home Peggotty at the same time, who surprised them soon after by delivering four baby bunnies! Following their progess was fascinating and a dose of reality. Two of them, Tiny Tim and Pip, did not thrive and died. Meanwhile, Dodger and Fezziwig have grown and moved into a new pen as they reached a month old.
I joined fellow Maine kidlit illustrators Hazel Mitchell and Russ Cox on the floor, already sketching with the bunnies hopping about. They’re darting about now, and it’s a challenge to get a few lines down before they jump away. Most of my details went into drawing Peggotty, the mother.
Worth every mile to hold such an adorable ball of warmth as Dodger.
Fezzi enjoyed checking out my sketchpad.
This is Russ’ page of fun bunnies.
We watched Peggotty get a snack, while we munched on cookies.
Fezzi is wondering “what is Toby Time?” as he lingers in Hazel’s arms.
With a new book about her dog Toby coming from Candlewick in September, Hazel is adept at capturing animals. This is just one page of many she drew.
She captured so much with her speedy sketches!
In my sketch, Peggotty is pretty relaxed, totally fine with all the attention.
These bunnies will be available for adoption at two months. Contact Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue if you are interested!
Thanks to Cynthia for fostering these animals and sharing her home with us. We need to do live sketching more often. Maybe next time on Peaks, anybody? We have horses here!
As a Side x Side visiting artist, I made four visits to Reiche Elementary to spark their Moving Oceans program. The kick-off featured Mary Cerullo, non-fiction author and Associate Director of Friends of Casco Bay sharing her books. I was excited to finally meet her!
She told a lively anecdote using this critter for emphasis.
For the first visits to 4 second grade classes, I showed them my stash of sketches for the cover of Here Come the Humpbacks. I do LOTS of drawings!
I also brought along my collection of natural objects, such as clam, mussel, and scallop shells, barnacles, sea urchins, star fish, sand dollars, and crab shells.
Drawing from observation is seldom required of second graders. They tend to trace an object, and I asked them to “eyeball” it: look slowly and closely before drawing.
As Professor Jennifer Landin writes in the Scientific American, “Drawing lessons were standard in school curricula. Why? To learn to observe.”
It takes careful examination to draw with detail. These second graders are up to the task. Getting a good shape with radial symmetry is not easy, but look at this lovely urchin drawing!
My beach combing collection included a bone that sort of resembled a bird. Students asked, what animal did this come from? In David Briley’s classroom, he hauled out part of a moose skeleton for comparison. We determined it was too small to come from a moose. Maybe a deer?
Handling an object can inform one’s drawing.
Some found the sound of the sea.
By the second round of visits, each student had chosen a creature to study. It’s always helpful to have multiple references to draw from.
We made a gallery at the end, to talk about what we noticed from our drawings. They each made great use of their image area.
There are a lot of complex parts coming together in Angel’s drawing.
I love the crazy energy of this anemone!
Everyone began with a pencil sketch and then redrew in black ink. Such a proud puffin here!
Again, we looked at all of them as a group.
Next the classes will visit Nance Parker’s studio nearby, to create sculptures based on their drawings. I can’t wait to see what they make!
The Textile and Fashion Design Department at Maine College of Art staged their fourth fashion show last Friday, as splashy as ever. My colleague in Illustration, Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd and I snagged seats next to Jill McGowan, who taught in TAF this year, so faculty pride was brimming!
I love the diversity of models in all shapes and sizes, many of them students. The fresh looks, too, like “Gray Circles” by Jianna Bennetti ’18, modeled by Theresa Uwamahoro.
Some sights begged a sketch. This is Jianna’s also, modeled by Tanner Skilten.
Seated at the edge of the hall running between the two ends of the ICA Gallery, I was privy to the action where Alik Versoki photographed the models.
Is this not totally adorable?
Spectacular surprise to see illustration student Kat Harris’ piece modeled by classmate, Tyler Eldridge.
“Armor” by Mina Hodjikj-Smith ’18 was modeled by Bart Powers.
The models had a blast, trust me.
Here’s Amelia Walz, my student in IL 322, showing off the vibrant “Feldspar Skirt” by Emily Koerner ’16.
Stunning details here!
Illustration alum, Alexis Powers, romped the runway in Stacy Xilom’s “Circle Garment.”
Alic keeps the models smiling.
Part II featured the TFD Major’s Collections.
Parker Smedley’s “Play the Game” was pure spirited fun.
One square of this Napkin Dress by Meg Hudson ’17 features Jill McGowan fabric. Coolest wedding dress ever.
Jell-O Deluxe by Allison Bonin ’16 featured vivid colors and unique shapes.
Delighted to see senior illustration student Jesenia Santana model “Erosion” by Emily Koerner ’16.
The models and designers paraded to a groove for the final walk.
Allison Bonin is the middle of her Jell-O Deluxe!
Bravo, designers and to the Textile and Fashion Design Department! You can see way more photos here.
In the month since I drew with second graders at Ocean Avenue Elementary, my Side x Side colleague Pamela Moulton had been working with the students on creating sculptures of land forms based on their drawings and research. With every visit, the classes grew more curious about Professor Sneedlebaum. Good news! He would be stopping at the school on his way to a conference in Canada! She worked with the students to create a special celebration of their learning. Here she works out the sequence backstage on April 28 with Mia, intern art teacher and intrepid volunteer.
How exciting when Professor Sneedlebaum addressed the classes!
He expressed his appreciation for their hard work in creating a model of land forms, and collected their data, which he will use in 3D computer studies at his university to predict future earth changes.
All the land forms, like this impressive glacier, were arranged around the edges of the stage.
Ms. Nogar and Ms. Partridge and Pamela watch a video with everyone of the making of the land forms.
Each group of students came on stage and performed a movement of their land from. This is Canyon and Arches!
Next each group placed their sculpture on a paper map of the island.
Then each group gathered before a projection of the drawings they’d made, and leaped up with the word of their land form. Hooray!
Meanwhile, the Professor examined and measured the models carefully.
He was clearly pleased, as was Mia!
Each group came forward until all the land forms filled the island.
Here it is, complete with a canyon and arches, hills and a river, two volcanoes, a mountain and valley, cliff and waterfall, a cave, a plateau and plain, a coastline, a hoodoo and canyon, a glacier, a mesa and butte, a peninsula, and it’s own little island with a lake!
Next the students performed a special Sing Sing dance, in honor of the Professor’s native Papua New Guinea, where there is a rich diversity of bird species.
And the teachers, too!
The Professor graciously took questions, such as why do you study land forms?
He replied, “I love nature and it’s beauty. What has happened to the Earth and it’s changes has an impact on us now and in the future.”
Q: What’s in your suitcase?
He had keys, a field guide to birds, an old stamp collection, letters, measuring tape, and a stack of envelopes for the teachers, with certificates!
The Professor dashed off to catch his plane. The students returned to their classes.
I am SO proud of their efforts, and ever grateful to have worked with a great school and this visionary artist, Pamela!
Together, with the teachers and volunteers, we engaged the students to embody their learning in multiple ways, from observational drawing, to sculpture, to painting and performance. As I headed back to my own island, I carried their vibrant wonder with me. Thank you, Side x Side, and Ocean Avenue’s honorary explorers!
The spring semester at Maine College of Art is nothing if not frenzied. A LOT happens, and for many reasons, this one was jam packed. My class of junior illustration majors began with a bang: a Sweet Art Shop of valentines had to be installed at the Portland Museum of Art just one week after their return from winter break. Hustle, I said, and they DID.
Maxwell Erwin’s packed an eyeful of desires.
Cody Gauthier’s valentine tells a short lonely story, perhaps you can relate?
We moved into an editorial project, with students choosing from one of three magazine articles. A Rolling Stone piece about David Bowie got the most takers. Here is a striking Ziggy by Amelia Walz:
Haley Flight chose a New Yorker fiction story, putting her fondness for patterns to work.
The next challenge was to apply an illustration as surface design. Mattea Weinberg drew a slew of art museums from all over the world, and fit them on a phone.
Lewis Rossignol created 3 skate deck designs from his notebooks.
Meghan Wilson created wrapping paper for a birthday party.
Meanwhile between projects we also drew from a model. Amelia Walz’s watercolor drips with drama.
We also drew from each other. Here Annelise Zeender models, captured by her peers.
It involved gathering student work from three years of courses, in every department. A tedious task, but ultimately very gratifying. Here’s a little slice from junior students then and now.
Our fourth project tied in with March’s Shakespeare fever in Portland. Actor and founder of Guerrilla Downtown, Linda Shary, joined the conversation as Guest Critter for a work-in-progress critique of poster illustrations for a Shakespeare play.
Here is Gunnar Johnson‘s for Macbeth.
Maxwell Erwin played with the essence of a duel.
Annelise Zeender’s cut paper illustration for The Tempest blew us away.
They came for a special screening of Very Semi Serious, and stayed to be hilarious and lead a cartooning workshop with some lucky students. We did a few of the exercises in class later, drawing the same thing within ever smaller time frames.
How about a bat, at 4 minutes, 2 minutes, 30 seconds, and 5 seconds.
Or a burglar?
Students had the final month to work on a series of three illustrations of their choosing.
Cody created character studies for the Sandlot, and Ham was the class favorite.
Mattea illustrated a series of local bakeries, with Union Bagel making us all hungry.
Gunnar created three portraits of our presidential candidates.
Everyone pulled off such a variety of solutions! From politics to panaceas, this junior class worked all the angles.
They trekked to Peaks for a studio visit right before the final class.
It was my honor to share the classroom and studio with these growing talents.
Have a great summer, illo ninjas, and keep those eyes and pencils sharp. Tomorrow I’m off to see what the Textile and Fashion students have been up to. MECAmorphosis, here I come!
Happy National Library Week! I’m still floating from last week’s Maine Library Association’s 27th Annual Reading Round-Up of Children’s and Young Adult Literature. No better place to be than in a fine flock of kidlit advocates. Winning a Lupine Award with Eva Murray for our book Island Birthday is a spectacular honor. Inspired by Maine artist, Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius, the Lupine is presented to a living author or illustrator who is a resident of Maine, or who has created a work whose focus is on Maine, shown through the characteristics, plot, or setting. In our case, both illustrator and author are Maine island residents, and the story is set on a Maine island, as real as it gets.
Author Gary Schmidt gave a compelling keynote address on the challenges of writing for young readers in a complex world. He asked us to consider, “What if everything matters? What if everything is a sacrament?” We have to show up, and be in this together.
I attended an author panel, titled Diversity is Reality, with authors Susan Ross, Dana Allison Levy, and Padma Venkatraman. Padma made a great point: let’s not assume what children need to read or want to read, enough with stereotypes.
Next I caught Camden Library’s whirlwind, Amy Hand, showcasing her favorite books for promoting acceptance. She’s not afraid to use humor!
Bravo to Cathryn Falwell, recipient of the Katahdin Award for her lifetime achievement. Eva and I proudly stand between Cathryn and the Lupine Honor winner, Matt Tavares for Growing Up Pedro. So very Maine that we each received hand-made plates, functional and beautiful.
I went straight from Augusta to the newly rebuilt Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, where my former Maine College of Art student, Kiah Gardner, is rocking the children’s room. Looks like a fun rumpus for reading!
Nearby Ocean House Gallery is hosting an exhibit of children’s book illustration, It’s All About the Books! Celebrating Cape Author Fest. Check out this small but mighty gallery run by Graham Wood. with work by Scott Nash, Andres Vera Martinez, Dylan Metrano, and Lisa Jahn-Clough.
Saturday’s Cape Author Fest was packed, thanks to Travis Nadeau and a league of intrepid volunteers, like these three.
So many book creators in one place, I think I melted.
Look, it’s my neighbor, Annie O’Brien, here with her colorful books.
Always honored to be in the company of esteemed colleague and fellow islander, Scott Nash!
He’ll be at Longfellow Books tomorrow night with his latest, Shrunken Treasures. I’ll see you there, 7 PM sharp.
Thank you, librarians and families, for putting books in the hands of kids. Stories bring us together in so many ways. Thank you, Lupine Committee, for these plates, ever so honored and humbled to receive them.
Around a year ago, I was scrambling to finish all the posters for Portland Stage Company’s 2015-16 season. On the launch night, Social Media/Marketing Associate, JJ Peeler, and Executive and Artistic Director, Anita Stewart, happily showed my rough sketch for the final show, They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!
Called again to create a cohesive look for the 2016-17 Season, I scrambled ever harder to be ALL done. Two shows remain in the current season; I felt complete seeing this one on stage at last.
Meanwhile, My Name Is Asher Lev is on stage. Based on the novel by Chaim Potok, the play tells the story of a young Hasidic boy driven to draw and paint, against the will of his parents and his religion. These were some of my rough ideas. And I do mean rough, since I was hustling several deadlines.
There’s quite a bit of discussion in the play about crucifixion, so a window with a cross hints at that symbol.
For this idea, Asher’s father looms in silhouette within an ornate museum frame.
This was the idea chosen, but with an added element from another sketch, Asher’s mother at the window.
I kept the space ambiguous, but with Asher’s paintbrush creating an incendiary swirl of color.
I’m fascinated by Hebrew lettering and found this typeface.
Here’s the banner treatment:
It popped up at the recent launch.
I saw the play on Saturday, and the spare set was the best contrast to the complex drama. Thanks to Green Design for being a sponsor; the simple wooden furniture was perfect.
Three actors played multiple roles seamlessly and lifted the story to another realm. Go see it!
I’m relieved to have finished all the plays by the launch event last Monday. It was fun to see them on stage for even a moment.
I’ve now illustrated 25 posters for Portland Stage. Thank you to Carole Harris for starting the illustrated poster direction, and all you players from box office to lighting to sets to sound to stage. You pull it off every time!