Pacers and pencils

Posted by on Oct 15, 2016 in collage, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, pastels, travels | 0 comments

Maine College of Art’s Pace House is a legendary destination for alums and students. With great anticipation, I drove the MECA van with 7 of this year’s senior illustration majors and their fearless leader Mary Anne Lloyd under crisp October skies to Stonington, Maine.


The house is full of art by Stephen Pace and his wife Palmina, whose hats hang in the front hall. Annelise and Gunnar wasted no time in embodying their kindred spirits.


We made lunch and then scattered to scout out the local village and environs. I made a pie to bake later.


Mary Anne put her lasagna in the oven, and brought out supplies for making sketchbooks.


How fulfilling to feast together, dining on Palmina’s ceramic plates.


Stories were shared by a fragrant bonfire under starry skies.


Students made an enormous breakfast the next morning, and then we scattered again to draw. I sat on rocks at the edge of the harbor and drew the incoming tide.


Annelise came along and sketched, too.


I switched to pastels and made a quick study of the nearby fish shack.


We regrouped for lunch where I found Haley drawing nature objects.


Maxwell had done another witty ink drawing for Inktober from the same window where I drew during my previous stay at the Pace House.


Gunnar made a slew of tasty tacos for everyone, and there was more time for drawing or ambling about. I followed Moo, Heidi, and Cody through the woods to a serene reservoir.


Later I found a perch by myself to draw the pond up the road, using one of the handy-dandy drawing boards Mary Anne gave to each of us.


By 5:30 we all piled in the van again in search of the setting sun.


We got there just in time for that golden October light.



The woodstove was lit, and another delicious meal was served.


We hung out in the toasty living room, and shared what we drew that day. Better than any crit, I tell you!


Gunnar had spent the day painting with materials he found in the barn, so we went there for a look.


The boys got another fire crackling and the night was still young.


Before we left in the morning to return to school, everyone signed the guest book, where I found this collage by Nancy Gibson Nash from last summer. It beautifully sums up the love for this amazing place!


Indeed, thank you Maine College of Art and the Paces. What a legacy you have generously shared that sparks the souls of so many. Thanks to Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd for all the planning, art supplies, and food!!!

I’m also grateful to MECA grads Liz Long and Hannah Rosegren, who filled in for my class of junior majors while I was away. I’m honored to know such fine students, both in the classroom and on the road.


A bristling book birthday

Posted by on Sep 29, 2016 in A Porcupine's Promenade, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, pastels | 2 comments


photo by Peter Moxhay

A Porcupine’s Promenade by Lyn Smith has been getting about! My neighbor sent a photo of the book spotted at the Common Ground Fair, at the Maine Authors Publishing booth last weekend.

I had the honor of joining Lyn at the Louis T. Graves Memorial Library on Sunday as guests of their Pasco Lecture Series. I have a fond spot for the Graves Library, where I gave my first library presentation with Mitali Perkins years ago.


photo by Brian Smith

Library Director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas gave us such warm introductions! She’s a passionate advocate for book creators, and I’m proud to know her.


Lyn Smith is a reading specialist at Kennebunk Elementary School, and thoroughly in her element reading aloud, with sound effects, too!


I shared a visual presentation of my illustration journey for the book. I learned so much about these curious critters. It’s important for young readers to get outside, and be observant of the wildlife we share the world with.

What a pleasure to sign books side by side with Lyn!

photo by Brian Smith

photo by Brian Smith

I’m grateful for the surrounding support here: author Mary Atkinson, Library Director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas, Curious City’s Kirsten Cappy, and Early Childhood Consultant, Gretchen Greenberg.

photo by Brian Smith

photo by Brian Smith

Many thanks to the Graves Library for hosting us!

Lyn will be on the road signing books at the Fall Foliage Festival in Boothbay on October 8, with other events to follow. She and I were interviewed by Donna Buttarazzi, for the York County Coast Star. You can hear Lyn read a bit of the story HERE.

Congratulations to Lyn, and to Priscilla the porcupine. Drawing her and her habitat was a worthy challenge!


Fishing for story in Belgrade

Posted by on Sep 12, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, Illustration, travels | 6 comments

We headed to Belgrade Lakes on Friday for a rare Maine gathering, the Agents Editors Writers Conference.

I felt rushed and unprepared until we pulled up to the cutest cabin at Castle Island Camps.


The tiny but tidy spot on the edge of Long Pond put me in the best mood. A dinner bell rang at 6 PM, and we crossed the road to join guests gathered in the lodge for a lobster feast.

The owners, John and Rhonda Rice, have photos of proud catches all over the walls. This is Rhonda’s grandfather on the left.


We met a father and son pair of fishermen who have been coming to the area and this camp for decades. Walt is a retired engineer with an avid passion for nature photography. His son, Pat, shared tales of encounters with wildlife from his years in forestry management. They fish between dawn and breakfast for the best catch.

After a night of loon calls I almost didn’t want to leave in the morning.


But I had my writing samples, ready or not.


The conference took place at the Maine Lakes Resource Center in the heart of town.


Writers chose an editor or agent’s table, depending upon genre: picture book, middle grade, or young adult. I was with Rebecca Podos, an agent with Rees Literary Agency. Seven other writers and myself took turns reading our first chapter out loud, followed by comments from Becca. I took copious notes on everyone’s feedback, because every bit of good writing advice applies. She was positive, thoughtful, insightful, and very constructive. We all have re-writing to do, but with clear purpose. Thank you, Rebecca!

During the lunch break, I encountered a delightful surprise: Kearen is an illustrator and author plus licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She brought a pair of baby squirrels she is tending.


After lunch, the whole panel heard first pages, anonymously submitted, and commented on the problems, any small thing that would make them stop reading in a slush pile. This included Erin Murphy, Melissa Kim, Audrey Maynard, Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary, Rebecca Podos, and Ammi-Joan Paquette. About a dozen pieces were read, but not mine. Still, it was an informative and brutally honest discussion. Melissa Kim pointed out, “Little things make a big difference.” From peeves about punctuation to the importance of point of view immediacy, the panel put it all on the table, quite succinctly. They deconstructed a few query letters, and then took questions from the audience. There were several about submissions. Erin Murphy’s interest in a manuscript is a determination between trepidation vs. excitement. An editor will only want to work a story if she can see exactly what it needs. It’s harder to make writing better than it is to edit the plot. Each of them shared their submission requirements and we were done, a long but very educational day.

I found new author Lyn Smith in the crowd, and she shared the new proof of our book!


This will be published this month by Maine Authors Publishing. Lyn and I will be visiting the Louis T. Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport to talk about the book on Sunday, September 25 at 2 PM. Come join us!

After being inside all day, Marty picked me up for a ride to Blueberry Hill.

We found a rocky trail before the rain cut short our hike and we returned to camp. And the loons.


We departed on Sunday just before a storm hit.


High five to Cathy McElway, a fellow SCBWI member, who pulled together a conference in such a sweet spot. The insights gained will renew my writing goals for the months ahead. Thanks to all who shared their wisdom and to all the writers who braved the rounds of reading. Onward!



Posted by on Sep 7, 2016 in Charlesbridge Publishing, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, Maine College of Art | 3 comments


What an honor to be included in the 2016 Biennial Faculty Exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art! The catalog’s cover (designed by Nicole Holmes ’14) is a detail from Treppenhaus, an oil painting by Hilary Irons.

Guest Curator Sage Lewis writes “Artists have a deep and often private relationship with their subject matter before it becomes public. It develops and changes over time as life experience, research, and inspiration comingle with the handling of materials, the recording of images, and the reading of texts. As I was selecting work for the 2016 Faculty Exhibition, I saw evidence of that private relationship unfolded as a generous offering to the viewer. “Bounty” is the word that came to mind.”

Sage visited my studio in April on a rotten rainy day, when I pulled from my messy studio piles of research materials: photos I took of models, photos I found of John Muir, and pages upon pages of sketches. I had submitted illustrations from John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, for the call for submissions to the Biennial. This non-fiction picture book required a certain historical correctness, consultations with the John Muir Center in California, and many revisions. You can read some of the backstory HERE.

I showed her the shed out back where I staged photos of my neighbor, posing as Muir. Evidence of these elements are on display in the exhibit, including several of the props I drew upon for reference.

At the opening reception, there was a fantastic turnout of 1400 viewers streaming through. It was gratifying to talk about my process and discover mutual Muir fans.


But best of all was being in the company of my fellow faculty. Hilary Iron’s detailed nature settings were perfect partners hanging nearby.

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

Gan Xu’s landscape paintings are sumptuous pleasures. He has taught art history courses at MECA for over 24 years. His return to painting in 2015 became an escape from the suffocation he felt politically and environmentally when visiting China.

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

Kate Green’s photographs are still images captured from videos of fireworks. They also could be deep space, the universe revealed. Divine.


Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

In the middle of the gallery Julie Poitras Santos‘ installation, O time your pyramids became performance on the night of the reception.

I urge you to duck behind the black curtain and watch Joshua Reiman‘s hypnotic film Panoramique de L’immateriel, a journey along the Seine in search of gold. Mesmerizing.


Nearby hang large prints by Program Chair of Photography, Justin Kirchoff. Vistas of overgrown interchanges near Interstate 95 are moody invitations to ramble.

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

The narrow hall joining the front and back galleries is lined with the darkly blooming work of Gail Spaien, whose focus on botanical still lifes is spectacularly gorgeous.

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

Photography by Kyle Dubay courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

Nearby is the work of Lucy Breslin, so delicious I want to eat it.


The front gallery is filled with the prolific ponderings of my beloved colleague in the Department of Illustration, Michael Connor. Good, and Not Perfect represents his long-standing affair with pen and ink, panel divisions from his wealth of comic endeavors, and cryptic absurdity.


Department of Illustration Program Chair Mary Anne Lloyd was on hand to document this rarest of moments: two illustration faculty in the ICA!

Photograph by Mary Anne Lloyd

Photograph by Mary Anne Lloyd

I am humbled beyond measure to be in this Biennial with such esteemed colleagues. Many thanks to Director of Exhibition and Special Projects Erin Hutton ’98 and Guest Curator Sage Lewis ’04 whose wisdom and insight brought together such a seamless and thoughtful exhibit.



The Irish..And How They Got That Way

Posted by on Aug 22, 2016 in drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, pastels, Portland Stage Company | 2 comments

I have Irish blood, of course. My great great great grandfather, Patrick Hogan, left Belfast in 1817 at the age of 19 when he settled in Young’s Cove, Nova Scotia. But otherwise my childhood didn’t involve much in the way of Irish heritage. No Celtic music around the house, no Irish step-dancing lessons, no nuns.  I found my way to Ireland in 1980 during my Wintersession at Rhode Island School of Design, traveling on a photography independent study.

My photograph of Joe Malone’s captures only the composition of a typical pub exterior in Limerick in 1980.


Portland Stage’s current collaboration with the Maine State Music Theater of The Irish And How They Got That Way will be all about the Irish soul found within.

I reveled in researching all things Celtic, playing Martyn Bennett’s Bothy Culture endlessly to stir ideas with a bagpiper backdrop.

These are just a few of the early rough sketches presented. So much text!




I needed to satisfy not one, but two clients. I went on to do some revisions of the above. Do away with the bodhran, and add more people. Got it.



Whenever possible, I like to generate my own reference. It so happens a Maine College of Art illustration major is a fiddler, and was studying abroad last semester at the Burren College of Art. Could she send me a photo? Yes.

This is Heidi Hayden, playing in Prince Edward Island, a magnet for Celtic music every summer.


I dressed her up a bit.


The poster involved layers of images. I knew another MECA illustration graduate, Liz Long, had done a residency at the Burren. I looked at her photos posted online for Irish landscapes. This pastel proved too busy for all the other visual elements going on.


I decided to simplify the distant greens behind Liz here.


Photo by Izzy Dow

Next drawing:


The border was the most time-consuming, not that I minded. I relished tackling the intricacy. I found so much to love.


It all came together, and here it is on stage when Portland Stage debuted their new season in March.


I’ll be going with Heidi to see it, thanks to Portland Stage and Maine State Music Theater. Join us!!! Everyone can tap their Irish soul in this rollicking show.




Once upon a prickle

Posted by on Aug 14, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, pastels | 3 comments

Sometimes the seed of a story can take awhile to sprout. Lyn Smith wrote a picture book story in 2008 during a graduate class in The University of Southern Maine’s literacy education program. She titled it “A Prickly Tale” and just a few months ago her sweet book dummy came my way.


The story follows a porcupine making it’s journey through the woods, an event witnessed and photographed by her husband, Brian Smith. Lyn and I were matched up in early May by Maine Authors Publishing, and I said a big YES to illustrating the book.

While the photos within were informative, I also gathered a pile of books at my local library to continue my research. I had a lot to learn about porcupines!


First off, I didn’t know they climbed trees! They can sleep and eat in trees for days. I’d never drawn a porcupine, so to warm up, I drew pine boughs.


These later became end paper ideas. It always helps to just start drawing. The rest followed, such as my little color pencil dummy.


I presented this to Lyn in late May when we met for the first time at Arabica in Portland. She looks happy!

During the two weeks I was at an art residency in Nova Scotia, Lyn held onto the book dummy, refining the text and sharing it with her elementary students in Kennebunk. Her purpose in writing the book springs from her literacy work with children and a small group proved to be eager first readers.

photo by Lyn Smith

photo by Lyn Smith

We met again in mid June to discuss changes, such as a new title.


I dove into working on final illustrations. Here I have lightly transferred an enlargement of my dummy book sketch onto sanded pastel paper.


I always saved drawing the quills for last. If you ever wondered what a porcupine would look like without them, what about this?

I drew the interior illustrations before working on the cover. These photos show a progression from sketch to color.

It’s always good to take a break, and see it with fresh eyes another day. I decided to make the setting at dusk. The art will wrap around to the back cover.

Once I sent off the final art digitally to Maine Authors Publishing, I was ready for a break. Marty and I took off on a weekend motorcycle ride, stopping first at the Maine Wildlife Park. I’d heard there were porcupines in residence.

When I saw these two, I kicked myself for not finding them before I began drawing. They are adorable!


Between busily eating fruit and leaves, this one made a yawn. Notice the bright orange teeth!


Before we headed home, I ventured to pop in at Maine Authors Publishing, recently relocated to an 1823 Federal House in Thomaston.


It was a pleasure to meet the team, especially founder and president, Jane Karker.


I left my book dummy with Art Director David Allen and came back to Peaks. Both Lyn Smith and I returned recently for a meeting, discussing design and marketing details.


photo by Jane Karker

Thanks to Maine Authors Publishing for bringing us together. Stay tuned: A Porcupine’s Promenade is due to be published this fall!




Peaks Island Sketchbooks Workshop

Posted by on Aug 8, 2016 in Art Classes, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, pastels, Peaks Island, Sketchbook Project | 1 comment

For the fourth summer, Judy Labrasca and I led a Peaks Island Sketchbooks Workshop through Maine College of Art’s Continuing Studies Program. This one day workshop is a fun meander of island views and wide open possibilities. Every year is a different group, paper skies, and new friends made. You can read about past ventures here, here, and here.

Judy meets the group in Portland and ferries over on Casco Bay Lines. I meet them at the island dock where we share materials and our philosophy: sketchbooks are vessels for adventure!

Thanks to The Sketchbook Project, I’ve developed a steady sketchbook practice, always with a small one in my bag. I showed some recent drawings and discussed pastels and sanded paper. Judy shared a buffet of sketchbooks, varieties of paper and portable palettes, plus lots of tips.

We began at the beach closest to the ferry, where Judy used a waterbrush to get started. She used a viewfinder to locate her subject, and made a small sketch for reference.


Here is Bethany’s breezy sketch of House Island.


I drew a small study in pastel of the ferry heading back to Portland.


The overcast morning turned to hot sun, and we relocated to the Fifth Maine Museum porch, to welcome shade and ocean vistas. After lunch, Judy did a watercolor demo.


In just a matter of strokes, she conveyed a variety of methods.


I did a pastel demo on sanded paper. After drawing a quick composition in red pastel pencil, I blocked in where the sea meets the sky.


photo by Judy Labrasca

Working small and spontaneously, it’s about finding what’s visually important to you. It’s not gonna be a photograph, OK? Or perfect.


photo by Judy Labrasca

Nothin’ fancy here, just some color dust.

Then everyone left the porch to sketch. Bethany and Janice picked a pretty perch in the garden.

I used Prismacolors on sanded paper to sketch the drowsy daisies and a glimpse of Aubree.


Here she is drawing below the garden.

She was exploring the pastels with sumptuous results.


I’d brought my island car this year, due to the iffy weather report. We lucked out with sunny skies and the chance to drive to the north side of the island, where a quiet cove awaited.

I sketched Bethany sketching.


Bethany painted a cool house on Long Island.

Meanwhile, Janice made a simple symphony of sky, land, and water in pastel.


Aubree drew island fauna up close.


I can’t resist the rocks there.


Judy drew Long Island, too, on sanded paper with vibrant line.

She suggested an exercise for warming up: just scribble in the forms. The loose approach can ready both the arm and the brain for something unexpected.


All too soon, it was time to head to the ferry back to Portland, Maine. There’s nothing finer than a day of drawing with eager folks. Thanks to Judy and the Maine College of Art!


Book Makers Meet Up

Posted by on Jul 26, 2016 in Charlesbridge Publishing, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Here Come the Humpbacks, Illustration, pastels, Peaks Island | 2 comments

Here Comes April! Yes, the award-winning author of Here Come the Humpbacks! came east from Indiana, and migrated to my shore last week. What a pleasure to meet April Pulley Sayre for the first time.


April’s always on the search for natural wonders and wanted to explore tide pools. I brought her to the best spot at low tide, Picnic Point, where she didn’t waste any time getting her feet wet.

I perched nearby, sketching Whitehead Passage.


She caught me in a pano shot.

photo © April Sayre

photo © April Sayre

We watched a tanker emerge from the distant mist.

The steady tanker flow into Portland harbor became ready reference when I made this illustration for Here Come the Humpbacks.


We decked out the guest room in a whale theme, of course. April slept under this pastel from the book.


My handy humpback prop kept her company on the night table.


photo © April Sayre

My grandfather, Roland Bell Hogan Sr., hooked this rug, which last summer became my prized possession.

Finally, I got April to sign my copy of our book!


photo © April Sayre

She took this pano of my messy studio as I worked on a new project, this one about porcupines!


photo © April Sayre

We had a grand time talking about books, the birds, our families, and the fog. April had come to Peaks Island via other travels, and enjoyed a bit of island relaxation.


Thank you, April, for making the trek. It’s a special place that we share, in the vessel of a book. I’m honored that it continues to make a splash. I hope your island wanders bring forth new book wonders in the future!

Tall Tales from ICON9: Day 3 & 4

Posted by on Jul 14, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, collage, comics, drawing, fashion illustration, Illustration, Maine College of Art, travels, zines | 3 comments

Welcome to more epic recapping of ICON9, the Illustration Con held in Austin. Last Friday July 8 more awesomeness awaited us in the form of Martha Rich, ICON’s Emcee and quick-change artist. Who needs a Martha Rich paper doll set? I do!


Tall Tale or fact? Martha is a Mainer! She grew up in Pennsylvania, the daughter of ministers, and invited us all to exchange the peace, which the mob of 600 gladly did.

Anita Kunz made a stellar presentation on why art matters. Whoever thought a cartoon could kill, she asked. With imagery, she showed how art can recruit or resist war, worship gods, build up or tear down politicians, expose injustice, teach children, describe the sublime, immortalize, or heal. “Let’s make sure we use it wisely,” she said. She laid it all bare by sharing her very first painting. I love this so much. As the day went on, many speakers shared very early work, tracing an arc from it’s source, which I find deeply fascinating and it moves me to tears.


Jonathan Tobin, an attorney and former designer, discussed orphaned works with a story dating from the 6th century.


Most surprising fact: copyright is guaranteed in the Constitution, in Article1, Section 8:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

He advised us to get involved. With so much digitization online, if we’re outraged, we aren’t paying attention.

The next panel discussed Zines to Screens. Hellen Jo, Calvin Wong, and Paul Windle are all veteran zinesters now with awesome day jobs, if not dream jobs. Hellen said hers would actually be “eating chips and getting paid for it.” Hey, me too.


Each of them brought their story-telling humor from zines to storyboarding and full creative license at ADHD, The Regular Show and Super Deluxe. Cal remarked that it’s come full circle for him. Watching the Simpsons informed his aesthetic, and now TV has become a mirror, as his coming of age story is part of a new work. Rad.

Kathie Sever, an Austin local, quietly wove the story of her family roots in art and craft bringing her to using chain stitching to create wearable art. Had to draw those braids.


During the snack break, I marveled at this miniature paper model of the ICON stage set by Jason Holley.


Henrik Drescher’s talk was titled Swimming in the Picture Pond, but he said, “This isn’t swimming, it’s climbing.” He left art school to travel and make books, before encountering the work of Jack Kerouac, all the while building his own visual vocabulary in notebooks and found objects. “What an object emanates is very important to me,” he said. His limited editions are punctuation marks of his cataloging of the world. Sublime.


Antoinette Carroll declared, “Everything we do changes the world.” She employs design as an activist tool, to challenge, change, and champion with her Creative Reaction Lab.


Brainstorming in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing, a group of designers created Cards Against Brutality, not a game, but a thought-changer. This and other collaborative projects aim to illuminate our common humanity. She challenged us all to disrupt the system and look beyond fear.

Her rousing presentation was followed by a sobering talk among Lars Refn, Matt Bors, and Steve Brodner, who moderated A Global Conversation on Political Satire.


Lars said, “I  made a difference, but not the one I wanted.” Post Charlie Hebdo, the world of satire is altered. Steve asked, “How do the limits of artistic freedom change your way of working?” He reminded us there are places in the world that are “irony free” and the term “blind spot” came up more than once. Matt Bors acknowledged, “I need to watch what I draw.” This discussion needed more time, so some headed for lunch while others gathered to continue the dialogue.

Len Small delivered his talk on editorial art direction (see previous post) followed by a panel on Illustration Journalism, with Susie Caigle, Darryl Holliday (my sketch below), and Jamie Hibdon.


They go where photography is not allowed, and cover stories beyond the powers of photography, with a deft filter on complex contemporary issues. I want to get in on this!

Between speakers there were sometimes graphic results of an ICON survey, perfectly illustrated by Mark Todd. I finally got to meet him at the Roadshow. His book, authored with Esther Pearl Watson, Whatcha Mean What’s A Zine is like a textbook bible in my illustration classes at Maine College of Art.


Kyle T. Webster revealed his Secrets of the Brush World, saying it’s better to use a glass bottom boat before diving into deep waters. He has combined play and expertise to create innovative digital brushes and a successful global empire to boot. He turned his mantra make it, show it, let the internet grow it into a country ballad.

Local artist Kim Cadmus Owens was next, talking about painting the urban landscape before it disappears.


Three powers in illustration, Melinda Beck, Julia Rothman, and Jessica Hische told us how to Mind Your Own Business. I couldn’t draw all of them at once. Here is Julia.


Besides dishing about double standards, social media, and contracts, Jessica’s message says it all:


Kayla E gave a refreshing and lively talk about inclusivity. Collaboration and amplification are ways to step outside our bubbles and blind spots, but only if we get ALL IN on it. Amen.


Local artist Marc Burckhardt shared this moment, when he realized as a young boy he could “negotiate around things by drawing.” Understatement of the year.


He sees “no firewall between illustration and fine art” and has in fact changed the direction of his commissioned work by creating exquisitely crafted personal work. This was a common theme of the entire conference. Make it and share it, please yourself first.

New York Times Art Director Alexandra Szigamond outlined her many roles as a collector, explorer, trendspotter, matchmaker, and translator. Her palomino-like jumpsuit was perfect in this setting.


Her job is no longer just print, she must design across multiple media, from the verbal to the visual, print to digital, desktop to mobile, with the invisible to the visible being her favorite part.

The sheer variety of presenters at ICON is eye-boggling. Up came James Victore, almost like a circus barker strong man stand-up hybrid in his delivery, saying “trust is my lifeblood.”


He signs everything, and his studio is just “where we duct tape stuff together.” The real inspiration comes meeting people anywhere and everywhere, and asking burning questions, always.

A Happy Hour thankfully followed. We all sorely needed libation before the next thing, an opening for the Tall Tales ICON9 Group Show. I confess, I skipped it. Met local peeps for dinner and sat in a breeze on a grassy lawn, a much needed respite from the relentless ballroom action.

Saturday July 9, are you ready for more?

Alex Mathers did this piece, shown during a panel with Lindsay Nohl and Lily Smith Kirkley talking about building their businesses. He studied geography, which led to working in real estate, and then illustration. The paths a career takes can’t always be explained.


Selina Alko and Sean Qualls collaborate in life and work. The story behind A Case for Loving had so many fascinating details! I’m always interested in process, early sketches, how images evolve.


They shared their secret: separate studios! Since my husband is also an illustrator, that works for us, too. All under one roof, though. I wholeheartedly agree with their statement: “librarians are the backbone of the children’s book industry.” Hear, hear!

Svein Storksen was an accident, arriving quite close behind his twin siblings. He survived his unkissed teen years to find common ground among art students in college, growing up to become an illustrator and publishing company of one.


Kent Bye and Ashley Pinnick shared their faith in the final frontier of Virtual Reality, a veritable Wild West of possibility.


We’re moving from the Information Age to the Experiential Age, one Pokemon at a time. I myself want less screen time, not more, but they make a compelling argument for augmenting our realities.

I fell head over heels for the work of Poul Lange, not to be confused with a Hoarder. No, he is a collagist of the first order, putting broken ukuleles and botanicals to sublime use.


A native of Denmark, he now lives in LA, where The Glue That Binds finds higher purpose, uniting objects and found images into visual poetry. When his wife told him, “Use it or lose it,” he embarked on a 365 day journey to make a collage a day. This turned into a gallery show, and that turned into more. And more. So so grateful, am I.

Allejandro Magallanes Gonzalez from Mexico paced around the stage, speaking partly in Spanish, and always visually with bold design.


We were treated to a Kaleidoscope line-up of ICON attendees who vied for their short moment on the Mainstage. Jill Calder seized the day with her Horses, Teeth, and Bloody Royalty: Illustrating a Scottish Hero.


She embraced the challenge to better her ability to draw horses by going at repeated failure with gusto. The results are dynamic and inspiring.

Kenton Visser’s Yes Virginia There Is a Catharsis showed how his art helped him heal. He said, “Austin is the quarantine for everything cool so it doesn’t leak out to the rest of the state.” For him, art is work, and like exercise, it helps the body and soul.

Cynthia Morris confessed she got an F in art, but has since slain her inner critic by drawing in a sketchbook, empowered by listening to podcasts of Design Matters and doing travel retreats. She just did an artist residency in Paris, so she’s gotten it figured out!


Other speakers included Lenny Terenzi, Tom Froese, and Beverly Coraldean, each one revealing the highs and lows of creative lives, always moving forward. Illustration may be a sometimes fickle field, but illustrators possess a drive that often goes beyond the over-used “passion.” How brave and mighty this band of folks.

I went to lunch with a group of women I’ve only met online. Delicious to have face time! I didn’t realize until later that front left is Shelley Ann Jackson, illustrator, author, educator, SCBWI member, local Texan, and girl group ringleader. Wow! Other ladies include Michelle Kondrich, Andi Burnett, Laura Menardi Jacobsen, Diandre Mae, and Kat Hubbs.


It was all too short, but infinitely sweet to meet y’all!

Having arrived back too late to catch Ping Zhu, I took a short time-out, and so mostly missed Public School, too. Glad I was there for the incredible Gemma Correll whose quirky humor busted my guts. She calls herself “an introspective introvert” and uses her sketchbook as “a filter between my brain and my art.” Here are her stickers for adults.


During the snack break, it got all batty onstage.


Norma Jean Maloney talked about The Lost Art of the Hand-Painted Sign with such humble grace, I loved every second. She asked, “Your dreams are picking you, are you listening?”


Roman Muradov spoke on the benefits of idleness, On Doing Nothing.


He said, “To do nothing well is to get lost.” The whole thing was mesmerizing and sometimes funny and I got a little lost listening and drawing him, so good.

Michael Thompson makes his messages loud and clear, visually communicating on a broad range of global topics with social activism via Freestylee.


We were all reeling from the events in Dallas. This message, silence = complicity hit the hole in my heart.

Eleanor Davis created the visual for the ICON9 poster. She read a story while her art told another. It was magical.


The keynote closers also read stories while playing soothing music. Jet Elfman sang while Charlyne Yi read from Oh the Moon, her illustrated novel. It was like a bedtime hypnosis, I was in a dream state by then.


Marty and I said farewell to Sophie Roach’s marker mural and all the ballroom bonding.


Austin’s got that carnival feel down. In the short walk to the closing party at Stubbs BBQ, we found lots to love.



Did I see a Pokemon? I think so.

First person we ran into was Jill Calder, who joined us in the messy rib fest.


This is just before Esther Pearl Watson got the dance floor full of amateurs.


We tried a lame two-step but had flunked our Western Swing class many years ago. Still, it was a hotsy-totsy hella good time! Thanks to ICON9 and all the hard-working folks that pulled it off. It’s a shot in the drawing arm that should last me til the next one!

















Tall Tales from ICON9: Day 1 and 2

Posted by on Jul 14, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, collage, comics, drawing, fashion illustration, Illustration, travels, zines | 1 comment

ICON9 was one giddy up good time in Austin!


My sketch of Daisy’s boot, from a pair she bought the last time we were in Austin, became the opener for zines I brought along.

I drew on the flights from Maine, too. Couldn’t believe what I saw out the window!


After a hearty welcome from our dear locals, Kathy and Barton, Marty and I checked into the Hilton Austin which was HQ for the hoedown.

July 6 began four rootin’ tootin’ days of the best illustration conference on the prairie.


I missed the introductions, trying to find coffee to fuel me for the full day ahead of an education symposium and workshops. Once again, Stagecraft Chair, Jason Holley, created a spectacular set that morphed continuously between segments. Here is David Terrell, professor at Kansas City Art Institute sporting a platypus hat. It’s all about forming a hybrid tribe, this radical teaching.


Next up Tilly Janssen and Marleen de Lange presented a lecture titled The Bigger Picture, about their methods of getting students to ask deeper questions about their illustration at HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht Netherlands. By prompting students to analyze their aesthetic triggers, they push finding relevant meaning in their illustration.


Marty headed off to his workshop, Time of the Sign, with Norma Jeanne Maloney of Red Rider Studios.

The toughest part of ICON is all the awesomeness running concurrently. Y’all can’t be in two places at once. I stuck around for most of the education presentations, and glad I did, absolutely thrilled by Colleen Schindler Lynch’s talk: What’s the Skinny? Diversifying Fashion Illustration.


She is shaping a new curriculum that diversifies the concept of beauty, while also archiving a database of diverse fashion images, with help from the Teaching About Diversity Fund. As an occasional fashion illustrator and fan of fashion illustration, I enjoyed these samples from Jade Pilgrom.

I heard D.B. Dowd last fall at the Illustration Research Symposium, and his latest talk, Arguing for Aristotle, made the case for using theory and philosophy to define ideas in illustration, where the lack of pretense has produced a lack of reflectivity. The emphasis on technical aspects, the HOW, has de-emphasized the WHY. In the age of Photoshop, photography has lost it’s authority. Illustration is poised to capture our cultural fluctuations by identifying creative values and translating them.

Roderick Mills of the University of Brighton talked about exploring new technologies in developing an expanded illustration practice, which now encompasses a wide range.


He reminded us there are piles of books about How To Illustrate, but very few about the WHY. Beyond how to illustrate, let’s ask how do we mediate the world, blurring definitions as our field becomes both more accessible and more ambiguous.

After lunch, Susan Doyle, Chair of Illustration at RISD, Jaleen Grove from Ontario College of Art and Design University, and Whitney Sherman, Chair of MICA’s MFA in Illustration Practice presented their case study on producing a history of illustration like no other. Their history of illustration project, first announced at ICON8 in Portland, OR, aims to bridge critical theory and history with illustration practice. Their collective undertaking is all on their own time, nothing short of mind-boggling on top of their academic and artistic pursuits. A standing ovation is in order!

They were quite clear about what the book is NOT: an encyclopedia, a coffee table art book, or a narrow prism. It WILL BE chock full of inclusive themes and overlapping cross-references, thanks to an army of professional illustrators writing about what they know. They provided a hand-out of the table of contents, as well as sample “tech boxes” that include topics such as gillotage, halftone, and hegemony.

Funny thing, though: somehow Charles Dana Gibson fell into so many categories, he was momentarily lost in the cracks. Listen up: they are in need of more writers. And donors!



Nanette Hoogslag of Anglia Ruskin University and Lee Ford from Sheffield Hallam University discussed Making Illustration in the Digital Era. Their question: how can illustration keep making sense in a post-semiotic world? Are we moving past the Gutenberg Parenthesis, beyond print thinking? Again, the premise that illustration is a means to translate, to be a shaping power of perception in an open text world, cannot be ignored. We are now exposed to illustrational experiences in which the distribution and transmission can determine how an image is received. How do platforms influence the message? They shared imagery from Animade, Kin Design Studio and this one.


Sabrina Scott delivered a potent presentation, Drawing the Other, in which she analyzed seven years of American Illustration annuals to learn what representations of humans are deemed worthy. Here’s my drawing of her.


For instance, males are nude 2% of the time, while females are nude 30% of the time. Does illustration reflect sexism? Racism? Are we reinforcing stereotypes in our work? We need to be kind and smarter with the imagery we create. We need to hold ourselves accountable. YES, we do.

I passed Marty coming back from his workshop with Guiseppe Castellano as I ducked out for a workshop with Rebecca Mock, Deconstructing the GIF. She told us right off that she learned the “slow, dumb way” by double clicking her favorite GIFs, taking them apart frame by frame discovering the beat, that pause before the punchline. She considers the scene, what is seen and what is implied. In building the image, “composition is everything” and then file sizes and number of frames determine the success of a GIF. This workshop was a packed house, and she provided a detailed hand-out. Thank you! Because my eyeballs were melted by then.

We bumbled in the steamy heat over to Brazos Hall for a cocktail party.


After swigging a single Lone Star, we found the Alamo Drafthouse, where a curated collection of kinetic adventures was screened, aka Motion Commotion. So many cool animations!! Wish there was a program or list somewhere of what we saw. A handful of makers took questions from the crowd.


That’s just the First Day. Are you still with me?

July 7 was more, more, more: workshops, education panels, opening ceremonies and the Roadshow. Marty went to Alex Mathers’ workshop and I went to Gina Triplett and Matt Curtius’ workshop, Personal Work and Work-Work, a bounty of insights and information. Best part: seeing their sources of inspiration from Matt’s mother’s quilts to Gina’s dad’s painted trays. After a thorough talk about their business pie, they did a demo of their variety of techniques involving masking, painting, drawing, stenciling. Matt said, “Our main vehicle is emotion.”


We had time to work on something of our own with their materials or whatever we wanted. I’d brought gouache and some collage stuff. Look, a peony.


After lunch Marty headed to a workshop with Anita Kunz, Idea Generation on a Deadline. I took in the Education Round Table moderated by Sam Weber. Faculty panelists included Laurie Burruss, Lee Ford, Petrula Vontrikis, LyndaWeinman, David Terrill, and Nanette Hoogslag.


The best skill these days is responsiveness, not necessarily mastery. Educators must instill a level of self-discovery that lasts a lifetime. It’s irresponsible with today’s education costs not to discuss the economy of the field. Faculty can model the ability to learn something new by initiating projects in which everyone begins at ground zero, not knowing a thing.

I ducked out for Len Small’s workshop: A Few Pixels to the Left, his perspective on art direction of editorial art at Nautilus. His wry humor and candid insights filled my head as I sketched him from nearly the back row.


His gems: be clever, be nice, be quick. Will do!

Without much break, everyone gathered for the Opening Ceremonies, awaiting that legendary ICON pomp and circumstance at 5:30. Ballet Folklorico got the crowd hyped with staccato moves and swirling costumes.


Executive Director Mark Heflin welcomed our tribe.

ICON9 President Esther Pearl Watson was visibly proud to have us all in her home state, wearing the BEST cowboy boots EVER.


She introduced the keynote speaker, William Joyce, whose film degree from SMU proved rather handy as he pursued a career as an award-winning picture book creator.


When he was five, he discovered Where the Wild Things are, and decided that being a Maker Upper was his calling. He’s pursued his unique stories ever since saying, “I’m a dorky guy from Louisiana and I’ve stayed there.” After winning an Oscar for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, his hometown of Shreveport held a ticker tape parade in his honor, the first one since the end of World War II.

He left the stage to a standing ovation, and then our herd mobbed over to the Roadshow. My first purchase was from my former student and recent Maine College of Art grad, Sophie Cangelosi, proud of her!


It’s a blast meeting such lovely folks as illustrators. This is Catherine Lepage, creator of Thin Slices of Anxiety.


Here I am with the Little Friends of Printmaking. Trying to lure them back for a Maine visit.


I visited Nicole Ray’s table, who I just met in Gina and Matt’s workshop. Bravo!


I wasted no time in shopping til I was broke. Other peeps probably partied, but all I could do was take stock of my purchases before collapsing into bed with them.


Can I keep up this pace for two more days? Stay tuned, cowgirls.