Whether you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan or not, the Portland Stage production of The Hound of the Baskervilles is one relentless spoof. When I read the script last year, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, it didn’t read that funny. But I attempted some hyperbole with my preliminary sketches for the poster. How about a towering fang-bearing menace looming over the Baskerville estate?
Or the classic vintage pipe with a smoking title?
A hound’s shadow on Holmes’ silly hat?
Or the flashlight trope?
A stalking hound of epic proportions?
I can keep going…the possibilities are endless. How about the Hound AND the detectives?
By the time I got to this one, I’d had enough. Another fang-bearing hound with miniature detective shadows…
Fortunately for me, Portland Stage always picks the right one. Here is the final illustration.
It’s nearly a year since I completed the artwork, so can I be blamed if I forgot most of the script? When I learned Dustin Tucker would play Holmes, I grew ridiculously eager to see the play.
I carefully chose Sherlock fans to join me, including Doug Smith, a Peaks neighbor and illustrator who first introduced me to Portland Stage, giving us tickets to Peer Gynt, which also featured the infamous Dustin Tucker as well.
The Hound is directed by Dan Burson, who I met years ago when I brought my Maine College of Art illustration students to sketch a tech rehearsal of Santaland Diaries, another Tucker tour de force. You see, everything is connected, my dear Watson.
I snuck this photo of the set before the show. The brick is meticulously crafted, and the stage pieces fly in and out while the three actors dash and prance through multiple characters.
After intermission, the actors return to announce the second act. Tucker was incensed that someone had tweeted an insult to his performance: jamiethehulkhogan88! Egads, I shrank in my seat, even though I’ve never been on Twitter. Hilarious surprise, Tucker!
Here is Doug after the show, ready to dig in to a pot pie at Katadhin,
Everyone was in need of enormous martinis for some reason.
Dick Reed and Gunnel Larsdotter invited us back to their place for dessert, the cherry on top of a wonderful evening of theater.
Thanks to Portland Stage and their fine cast and crew, and my fellow lovers of Sherlock. Go see this one, the frenzy of camp will be your delight.
I’m back in the Illustration studio at Maine College of Art this semester, after taking one semester away from that buzzing hive. The junior illustration majors are a sharp crew; I’m honored to share the classroom with such a fine bunch. They hit the deck running with their first assignment: to create valentines for the Sweet Art Pop-Up Shop at the Portland Museum of Art.
This project was launched three years ago in Scott Nash’s elective Development and Finish. The success of that effort drew the attention of Sally Struever, Director of the PMA Store. Last year, the Pop-Up was invited to inhabit the PMA Store, and my Illustration MECA colleague, Daniel Minter, led the charge. Love that it’s my turn this year!
With the re-imagining of the Museum opening on Jan. 22, students returning to school had a single week to conceive, create, and package their products. That’s hustling.
Thanks to the PMA for hosting our Sweet ‘Art!
Maxwell Erwin created multiple pun-happy cards, like Whenever We Meet, My Heart Skips a Beat, featuring a turntable with heart-shaped vinyl.
Amelia Walz made crowns for the cupid in your life.
Gunnar Johnson illustrated a weary heart, that will go to the ends of the earth for love.
These are some of my confections.
Gotta love Illustration Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd’s irresistible valentines.
Don’t miss your chance to send the hottest, freshest valentines available!
The holiday season brought sweet joys: family time, baking, and wonderful things in the mail.
Meanwhile, I was in the middle of a surprise commission. A secret Santa asked me to draw my former student/amazing illustrator Liz Long. Such an honor!
I drew this quick gratitude for my neighbor Eleanor Morse, who gave us a lovely paperwhite plant.
Right after Christmas, we began some art roaming, starting with the 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows at the PMA, as well as seeing the obligatory Star Wars movie. We made it to the Strandebeests before they left the PEM, whew!
I enjoyed Theo Jansen’s little concept sketches as much as the magical movements of the Beests.
The engineering is way over my head, but I marveled at their animated presence.
The Native Fashion Now exhibit was stunning! So glad I had my ever ready sketchbook on hand.
This paper top hat with dragonfly powers by Dwayne Wilcox was a favorite.
I fell for this dress, too, even though it’s by Isaac Mizrahi, not a Native American, but quite an example of cultural appropriation.
I’m sure the author of Owl Girl would want an elegant costume like this, right? I do. My sketch of “The Messenger” by Margaret Roach Wheeler.
A couple days later we caught the last half hour of Rich Entel’s Cardboard Menagerie at the Maine Jewish Museum. That’s us, just in the nick of time. Loved this owl with so much charisma and violin parts.
The presence and scale of Entel’s busts work so perfectly in this setting.
Every eye stared from complex surfaces, like this alligator.
Then this surprise: my favorite magazine Uppercase shared my Deer Bloom card in their Instagram feed. Aw.
During a snow day, inspired by my daughter’s photos of her MICA classmate, I drew Ellie wearing her very cool Sculptural Forms project.
Daisy and I both presented at the King Middle School World Language Art Expedition Kick-Off, the same project she did five years ago. We had a blast sharing our current work and thoughts on art-making.
Look who I ran into, the model for my first children’s book assignment, Maddie’s Magical Ride! She was but a wee thing back when I illustrated her, now a budding artist/athlete herself.
My next outing with kids’ books will be January 15, as part of the Nerd Camp in Falmouth, Maine. I’ll be in the esteemed company of 35 book makers, a happy hoedown. Can’t wait!
With a full year behind me, I’m excited for 2016 to roll out. Let’s play it for keeps.
Have you heard? There will be a full moon on Christmas for the first time since 1977. I’m well versed in lunar cycles, thanks to my contributions to the Lunar Calendar since 1983. Over the years, I’ve had the honor of creating the color cover several times, always a treat.
These are a few of the ideas I presented to publisher Nancy F. W. Passmore for the 40th edition.
Nancy is fond of the idea of keeping her moon boat afloat, so she picked the bottom left. I was happy to develop the one idea involving a dragonfly, an iridescent creature that holds great magic for some.
Last summer when a dragonfly landed in the center of my fading Tattly Tattoo, I was delighted.
I spied this freshman 3D project by Stella Wei at RISD’s Open House, what a delicate marvel in wire form.
My Lunar Calendar lets me know when to head to the back shore to see the full moon rise, an event that never disappoints. It is peachy and enormous, I swear!
I used a spotty metallic paper to collage the wings and the boat in my final illustration for the 2016 cover.
I also did art for inside the calendar. This idea was inspired by a poem by Sarah Fuhro, “Nameless.”
Here is the final drawing.
It suffers a wee bit in the translation to black and white, but retains the mystery.
The best part about the Lunar Calendar is seeing days in a spiral, and appreciating that our lives are fluid, not always fitting into the boxes and dates of traditional calendars.
I’m pleased to have my work grace this month’s lunation, the 13th of the 2015 calendar. My piece, “Pilgrimage” came out of an unused sketch for last year’s cover.
I’d just finished illustrations for Tiger Boy, and drawing naukas (Bangla for boat) was still in my mind. This illustration captures the long thin boats that navigate the mangroves of the Sunderbans.
This is the final pastel, with the boat floating in the heavens.
Is it coincidence that several books I’ve illustrated feature a full moon? In Tiger Boy, the full moon helps Neel in his search to find a lost tiger cub. In John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, the moonlight pulls Muir towards Yosemite Falls one night. In Island Birthday, Alex swims in phosphorescence under a full moon.
Soon I will retire the current calendar, but my cover for this year’s is one of my favorites, “Seven Moon Sonata.” The framed original is available in my shop.
Here’s to letting the lunacy shine this Christmas!
What a full and fruitful season this has been. I’m happy to announce my new website and shop, Jamie Peeps Island! You’ll find select originals, prints, and books that I can sign and ship directly to the darling of your choice.
When I saw this at the First Friday event for the Wake Up Alice exhibit, I thought yes, fill my cup please!
Besides enjoying a steady swell of viewers to the show, I connected with hearty Tilbury House editor, Audrey Maynard. And she bought my Alice! Thanks, Audrey!
The entire weekend was abuzz with holiday spirit. Just the trigger for me to design my annual holiday greeting.
Yet the weather still feels like fall. Doesn’t it? We even have a rose blooming in our backyard. Pretty but weird.
I have a necklace that became reference for an image idea.
My Snow Queen poster is another source of inspiration. When these invitations showed up from Portland Stage, I knew I wanted to include a girl on a deer in my card idea. Go, Gerta!
Even when I’m my own client, one lame sketch is not enough. It takes several, until you come up with ideas for a whole different approach. (Yarn ball tree, you’re next.)
After taking a detail to share on instagram, I cropped my illustration.
As soon as those square envelopes arrive, I’ll be a busy postal elf. Send me your address if you want one:
Warm wishes for happy holidays!
I illustrated the book jacket for Mary Atkinson’s Owl Girl, a middle grade chapter book about a young girl’s difficult summer at her grandparent’s lakeside camp. As soon as I heard the title, I was intrigued.
Maybe we need to see more of her face, and the owl shows up on her t-shirt.
Or maybe we don’t see Holly’s face at all, but there’s a full moon.
Preliminary sketches are all about exploring different angles. It turned out Mary liked the first one best, and I did as well. Here’s my color rough, made by copying my sketch onto blue paper and using Prismacolor pencils to sketch out the highlights.
Here’s the final, done on sanded paper with pastels.
I met up with Mary in late September to grab a couple of copies, published by Maine Authors Publishing.
Like Mary, I have a thing for owls; they are fascinating and beautiful. Native American wisdom holds that owls can see what others cannot. They can see through deception, and are often symbols of wisdom.
I drew a snowy owl for a holiday card a couple of years ago, when they were spotted on the backshore of Peaks Island.
Mary will be signing copies of Owl Girl at Books N’ Things in Norway, Maine on December 12 from 1 – 3 PM.
You could make it an entire owlish day and afterwards head to Maine Audubon for their program, Eyes on Owls.
As for me, I’ll be at the Portland Public Library’s Wake Up Alice! show this First Friday, December 4, along with other artists in the show. I’ll be signing books, too. Hoot!
The closer you get to Amherst, MA, the more you feel in the middle of the woods. It’s a serene feeling, honest. Meeting House roads are all over New England, as my passengers noticed.
We arrived at the home of Tony and his partner, Angie, right on time, and were in for a major treat. This pretty much captures the wonder we all felt.
Tony was very upfront: I started right where you are.
He has a non-stop passionate all-out work ethic, and set his goals early. He grew up in Florida, where he met Angela. They share a love of children’s books. Angela is an author and Tony’s studio manager. And a mom, just like me. Her office is full of sweet vignettes of vintage toys and art.
As a chronologist, I appreciated Tony’s narrative. He gave the tour of his studio and opened his wall of flat files, beginning with his high school homage to The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. His characters were infused with the early 80’s, naturally; he freely shared his opus in pencil and marker.
He showed his meticulous dummy book for The Spider and the Fly.
Seeing it next to the final book was informative for everyone. Those studying illustration need to see it as a perpetual process of refinement. Things change. It’s all good.
He also brought out well-known illustrations, to our utter amazement and deep satisfaction. Seeing original work is a blessed thing. What? What IS that you paint over the final watercolor that makes it come alive?!!
There came a point in his career where he could revive an early adolescent obsession: the Spiderwick Chronicles. Back when he was 12, he filled and filled and filled notebook paper with an elaborate tale of fantastic proportions.
His years of work could bring it to fruition. Illustrators, look at THIS dummy! Made with enormous attention to detail that the publisher could BELIEVE.
Surrounded by pin ball machines, vintage toys, sci-fi books, shelves and shelves of reference, masks, props, and his art next to his groovy daughter’s, we swooned.
He graciously signed our books, posters, and gave us stickers and tiny dinosaurs. Smitten, we were. With one last glimpse of this Mary Blair piece hanging in a dining room lined by Tony’s own wallpaper design, we reluctantly departed, filled with cookies.
Tony and Angie, we are infinitely grateful for your time, talent, and wisdom. What a feast you shared! No sketch can do it justice.
Our satiated troop headed to Northampton to our lodgings, and then to Local Burger.
We stopped at the nearby Tunnel Bar for some funnel.
The next day we visited the R. Michelson Gallery, renowned for it’s illustration exhibits in a former bank.
You can find original art by Mo Willems, with all the markings of reproduction.
This painting by Nan Hill summed up the moment my eyeballs melted.
We drove next to The Eric Carle Museum of Picturebook Art for a finale beyond our expectations.
Let it be known: the class of 2016 is one fine band of illustrators.
Chief Curator Ellen Keiter treated us to the full tour of this lively place chock full of incredible work. We discovered that for every 6 months the paper works are on display, they must “rest” out of view for 5 years. Illustration has purpose, it’s a means to an end, and only recently been considered worthy of display. Therefore, not always archival.
We viewed the exuberant show, Eric Carle’s A-Z, which ran directly into a gallery filled with David Macauley’s work from Black and White, a Caldecott Medal winner. Ellen explained he didn’t want any of the work to be framed. That was not possible, so he added to the display by painting directly on the gallery walls. Of course, no pictures allowed
We could photograph this, the entrance to an expansive exhibit of the work of Mary Blair, known for her Golden Book illustrations and visual development for Walt Disney.
The above photo doesn’t do the show justice. Just GO. She created inventive and expressive environments for classic Disney films like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and many others. Ellen provided background to Blair’s life while we peered up close at her painterly gouache scenes of miniature dramas.
Next we were ushered into the museum’s library and reading room, where a display of illustrated books of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland caught our attention. Look, an Arthur Rackham!
Ellen said goodbye as we ventured over to the learning studio to make collages from letter scraps, in honor of the A-Z show. Abbie Masso made this feline concoction.
As we headed to the parking lot, what did we see? A very hungry bug.
I am thrilled to have this piece in the current exhibit now in the Lewis Gallery at the Portland Public Library, Wake Up Alice!
I love adding collage bits, and photographed cards for inserting into my drawing done with charcoal pencil and pastel on cut paper.
I’m pleased to see my fierce little Alice hanging among such esteemed company!
To the right, my former MECA student, Declan McCarthy, created a corner chock full of the entire adventure told in comic vignettes he drew on the wall. Here he is before his arm fell off.
To my Alice’s left is MECA faculty Judy Labrasca’s exquisite collage and ink drawing.
MECA alum Liz Long’s bold yet delicate painting shows Alice considering the infamous Drink Me bottle.
Current MECA senior illustration major, Taylor Mirabito, creates a lush garden environment for her curious Alice.
Her classmate, Abbie Masso, created a detailed diorama with pattern and shadow.
MECA alum, Taylor Grant, made a narrative book and lantern show called Dinah in Wonderland. This scene captures the wit and humor of her story.
We have Scott Nash, co-founder of the Illustration Department at Maine College of Art, to thank for this delightful homage in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Scott’s visionary efforts began two years ago and now culminates in a fantastic display of talents within the Illustration Department, celebrating it’s first decade. Besides curating the show, developing marketing visuals, and supervising the installation, Scott created this fetching meta-picture, a large ink drawing that is framed in four pieces, suggesting a window through which a too-big Alice peers.
Upon closer inspection, he has written texts with more drawings, echoing the grand Cheshire Cat he created for the show’s poster and banner.
Current Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd created a stunning cat of bold stripes and manic contrasts.
Former MECA faculty Calef Brown’s cat is disembodied yet charming in a world of bright colors.
A fantastic display case also holds wonders such as this beaded cat, part of the collection of Deb Deatrick, member of the Lewis Carroll Society.
MECA faculty Alex Rheault’s “Journey of Madness” touches on the hallucinatory torment of Alice’s trip.
MECA faculty Michael Connor conjures a well of dramas in detailed pen and ink.
MECA faculty Daniel Minter’s “Serpent” is richly layered against a backdrop of tumbling figures.
Former MECA faculty Mike Gorman’s bold lines capture a badass Queen.
Former faculty Kevin Hawkes’ stage set panels invite the audience to enter.
As does this elaborately constructed tunnel book by MECA alum Emma McCabe.
MECA alum Kiah Gardner created a theatrical narrative within a miniature stage.
MECA alum Cecil Cates’ “Why Is A Raven Like a Writing Desk” is an earthenware balancing act featuring a snoozing Rabbit.
MECA alum Hana Firestone’s whimsical mixed media piece presents the White Rabbit in a mosaic of paper.
MECA alum Joe Rosshirt’s White Rabbit is caught in a rubbery dash of animated limbs.
There is SO MUCH MORE awesome work in this show! Don’t be late to see it! It’s on view through December 31. On First Friday, December 4, some artists in the show will be on hand selling prints, talking Jabberwocky, and drinking potions. I’ll be there in striped stockings.
But first I am off to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to see Mary Blair’s work with the senior Illustration MECA majors. She illustrated this Golden Book version which is among other vintage copies of Alice in Wonderland in the Lewis Gallery.
Time to fall down the rabbit hole!
The 6th Annual Illustration Research Symposium hosted by the Illustration Research Network and Rhode Island School of Design was a total blast of ideas and great presentations. Thanks to Maine College of Art for sending Illustration Department Chair Mary Anne Lloyd and me to this international gathering of illustration academics. I filled my MECA sketchbook and more.
Thursday evening upon arrival at the RISD ISB Gallery, we were warmly greeted by Susan Doyle, Department Head of RISD Illustration at the opening of the conference exhibition, Little Pieces, Big Ideas.
It was a delicious entry to what was in store for Friday’s full day of presentations and panels, held in Chace Auditorium.
RISD Illustration faculty, Robert Brinkerhoff, designed a charming visual for this year’s theme: Illustrator as Public Intellectual. He offered a welcome, introductions, and made the apt comparison between ICON (celebratory and extroverted) and the Research Symposium (reflective, abstract, introverted) and we were off and running.
The first panel on Challenging Professional Identities and Roles included David Blaiklock from the University of South Australia, whose topic, Illustration: Towards an Understanding of Expertise, was peppered with his conceptual illustrations. Many of his drawings made great use of the eye as metaphor, but for some reason this is the one I captured.
I was sketching the man in the row ahead of me. I liked his hat.
It turned out to be Gary Powell from the University of Brighton who spoke next on Inside the Outsiders: Intellectual Creativity and Social Concerns. Leaving Jamaica as a child to live in England, he gained confidence making art. He gave credit to his teacher, Ms. Hyden, for encouraging him, and quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Roger Reed of Illustration House, Inc. gave the history behind Illustrator/Author John McDermott’s Intellectual Look in the Mirror. McDermott wrote Brooks Wilson, Ltd. under his pen name, J. M. Ryan, about the exploits of an illustrator in NYC. Later, a film adaptation was made, Loving . Back in the day when being an illustrator was way more glamorous, and yet apparently still unsatisfying.
Mary Catharine Johnsen, Carnegie Mellon University’s Design Liaison Librarian, discussed New Yorker Cartoons and Invention. Her premise that “cartoons can teach ideas” was effectively presented with a bounty of examples, many from the 40’s and 50’s. She suggested “have the user finish the thought” for more powerful visual communication. She shared a wealth of fabulous lists, this one being my favorite, also handy for brainstorming in the classroom.
After a lunch break, the next panel was Visual Satirist as Public Intellectual. Marsha Morton from Pratt discussed German illustration from the mid-1800’s, much of it from Kladderadatsch, a newspaper in Berlin that frequently used illustrations by Wilhelm Scholz.
This led into the next topic, Thomas Nast’s “Appropriations”: Agency and the Mechanically Produced Image in Nineteenth Century America by Stephanie Delamaire of the Winterthur Museum. While Nast is perhaps better known in American illustration history, I didn’t know he was born in Germany or that he refused a bribe from Boss Tweed to go to Europe. His pictorial journalism grew into sharp satire that could change opinion and thus the balance of power. I sketched Stephanie as she spoke. My likenesses aren’t great, but drawing helps me listen.
Duncan Ross from Ulster University talked about Illustrating the Vaccum, literally. The Vacuum is an alternative newspaper whose strategy was to subvert the “troubles iconography.”
After presenters were done, they gathered together as a panel for questions. There was mention of Charlie Hebdo and the illustrator as agitator. The Kladderadasch Boy in Germany is now Alfred E. Newman of MAD, the foil for satire. This led into a roundtable discussion led by D.B. Dowd of Washington University on Cartooning & Illustration As Modes of Authorship: Cousins, Siblings, or Twins?
With Nora Krug, Seymour Chwast, and Anita Kunz onstage, the discussion covered big territory. Dowd argued that cartoons are stand-alone creations while illustrations are interpretive, accountable, and contingent upon text. Does that make illustrations less creative? Krug said illustration is underestimated; it has power to shape faith, politics, morale, and culture. “The act of drawing is a form of research,” she said. In illustrating her book, Kamikaze, she could imagine her subjects more deeply by drawing them, not seeing them as either victims, heroes, or culprits, but as human.
I drew her profile.
Chwast was born in the Bronx and lived in Coney Island, “a hotbed of naive radical activity.” He was influenced at a young age by trips to MOMA and the art of Ben Shahn, Daumier, and Goya. His point of view inspired the posters he created. Dowd suggested illustration lies in the middle between cartooning and art. With the economic climate of publishing shrinking, creators are left to make more personal work. Within the simultaneous scarcity of opportunity, there is a new audience bounty online. Kunz finds the now massive appeal of Comic Cons (one happening the same weekend in Providence) evidence that the field is changing. Chwast’s advice: Be brave, be aware how your work communicates.
We broke for fresh air and forays to other destinations. Mary Anne and I had fun in the RISD Museum.
I returned to Chace to catch part of “In And Out Of The Margins: Affirming The Illustrator As Philosopher And Boundary Catalyst in the Public Realm” with Chris Glynn playing piano while Richard Parry sang. It was remarkably entertaining, even though the audience was hesitant to sing along. They are launching the “University of Wednesdays” declaring there’s a tunnel that runs under the Venn diagram, and it’s the space anywhere people talk about relationships. Affirm obscurity!
A reception followed with wine, food, and mingling. We befriended Harini Kannan and Nayana Gupta, both visiting from Bangalore. They were presenting the next day, and had participated in last year’s Research Symposium in India.
We returned for the Keynote Address by Rick Poyner from the Royal College of Art in London, who was introduced by Jaleen Grove, Assistant Editor of a forthcoming History of Illustration (Bloomsbury 2017) and currently teaching at Wilfrid Laurier University. She was the first person I had sketched as the conference began.
She’d gotten her first degree in Graphic Design just when there were no jobs to be had, and became a freelance illustrator doing little $100 spots. She discovered the lack of discourse on illustration, but her questioning led her to the Illustration Research Network, where she now edits the Journal of Illustration as well. She called Rick a great megaphone for illustration, but when he took the podium, he admitted “I forgot my megaphone.”
He asked How seriously should we take illustration? How seriously does it take itself? Read more on that topic here. Poyner used Russell Mills as a case study for an illustrator who meets his definition of the public intellectual. Mills didn’t see any difference between self-motivated work and commissioned work. His illustration became less narrative and more complex, with use of collage with painterly textures. Mills now lives in Ambleside, a bucolic lakeside village in England, where “establishing a sense of place is a radical antidote.”
Meanwhile, I sketched the audience.
We headed off into the Providence night, and this rather summed up the day for me, an ode to the scopic regime in the window of Lovecraft Arts & Sciences.
Saturday’s agenda brought tough choices with double the offerings; panels in either Chace or over at the ISB Gallery. Arrrggghhh! I opted for Image Reference & Authorship.
Stuart Medley of Edith Cowan University presented Metapictures: Signposts to an Illustrated Public Space. He asked, “can illustration resist words?” He defined a metapicture as a picture inside itself inside itself, or a picture that references picturality, or a picture that is related but with a new spin. The hands-down best example was a smart series by Mike Mitchell called Super.
And what the audience brings to a visual gestalt….
I was eager to hear Lisa French’s talk: The Impact of Data Collection Technology on the Sophistication of Visual Thinking. I had this feeling: will she touch on the overuse of Google searches as primary reference?
She discussed how visual memory, even unconsciously, can focus the mind inward, where creative impulses form a cognitive network. I sketched her.
She outlined the steps in creating an illustration, the fact finding, problem finding, incubation, photo referencing. As a non-fiction illustrator, I get the inherent limitations of using only a single source, and one that is at everyone’s fingertips. We all need to dig deeper.
Catrin Morgan presented Evidence and Illumination. She said, “Illustration doesn’t need to make any claims to being important. It uses all languages.”
James Walker presented The Forgetful Act: Erasure and Forgetfulness in Illustrative Reportage. My, how true. I am leaving out SO much in this report, and my sketches barely catch a whiff of what I saw.
Photography is one click on an event, while drawing takes more time and perhaps discomfort. It is a furtive and clandestine act amidst “the image well we are drowning in.” What is left out of a drawing, the white spaces, the erasures, create “an empty space that becomes filled with viewers’ emotions.”
During the coffee break, Mary Anne and I dashed over to the ISB Gallery for the next panel: Cultural Representation & Intervention in the USA. Chris Lukasik from Purdue University began with Looking the Other Way: David Hunter Strother, Race, and The Rise of Mass Visual Culture. In his examination of Strother’s rise from an “expensive ornament to a crucial piece of media” he documented the work of Strother’s alias, Porte Crayon, whom he called “the drunken uncle” that nobody talks about. A peer of Winslow Homer, his work for Harper’s New Monthly was full of racial stereotypes that earned him praise in media circles at the time.
I began sketching the woman in front of me who was in fact the next speaker, Robyn Phillips-Pendelton from University of Delaware.
She presented Diversity, Perception, and Responsibility in Illustration, a continued thread of racial stereotyping in newspapers and advertising from Strother’s day, to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to Aunt Jemima packaging, to Time’s cover by Matt Mahurin of O.J. Simpson, to Barry Blitt’s New Yorker cover of Michelle and Barack Obama’s fist bump. It just doesn’t stop. When will it STOP?
Sabrina Scott’s Drawing the Other examined the contemporary illustration scene by looking at recent illustration annuals, counting the number of white males, females, people of color, LGBTQ folk. White males are the default in illustration, while females are often sexualized, sometimes appearing only as legs. She said, “We can make work smarter than this.”
There was talk of who are the jurors for these one-sided annuals? Robyn pointed out there were no people of color presenting at the last ICON, where she was one of two black women in an audience of 500. We ALL need to raise our voices.
After a quick lunch break, I headed back for Practitioners in Collaboration With Clients & Audiences. Nayana Gupta presented Urban Dissection, in which she shared this busy map of what makes Identity.
Culture is primary; her observations while walking in Ranchi (capital of Jharkhand), where little temples sprout up on public property, became an investigation into what those structures represent. Her first step is to decode the environment, in which sketching adds a focus. “The gods are on the street” became not just a translation, but a diagram of symbolism, materials, and relentless expansion.
Kathrin Amelung was unable to attend, and Chris Glynn superbly delivered her Scientific Illustration as a Specific Kind of Research, declaring that scientific illustration is not just after the fact, but can BE the research, using dinosaur bones in animation to argue the point with great effect.
Chloe Bulpin, a recent RISD graduate in Illustration, presented The Art of Conservation, asking do we need to keep every species? Like, the oblong rock snail, who cares? What is the more effective approach to conservation, doom and gloom or empathy? The viral circulation of this photo is evidence that empathy might work.
Check out Creature Conserve to learn how you can contribute.
Mark Smith presented You Look Like the Right Type, his dedication to overheard phrases and hand-lettering. He’s become fascinated by Scott McCloud’s definition of closure, that space between sequential panels that a reader completes without thinking. He considers these juxtapositions when hanging his works in modular displays, all done on small sheets of drawing paper.
Last but not least was the Education panel, where Luise Vormittage from University of the Arts presented Confidence, Conviction & Depth: Emboldening Illustration Students. She used Google search image clusters to illustrate her points, asking if what we teach at our institutions is relevant to contemporary conditions. How we currently teach is neither practical or truly academic.
We expect students to be self-directed, to find their “voice” when such work is rare and badly paid. Students don’t often choose relevant themes. She said, “Most illustrations aren’t made by illustrators.” It’s the usage that has become primary. What authorized the author? In today’s digital glut, a personal voice has become anachronistic. She raised many questions.
Dushan Milic from Ontario College of Art and Design followed with no visual aids whatsoever for The Power of Forms: Abstraction and Imagination, Representationalism and Power. He said what is excluded counts. A blank screen engages the void when we are awash in images without meaning.
Robert Brinkerhoff’s presentation of Stereotypes and Paradigms: Revolutionizing Archetypes in Illustration also used Google as a data visualization device to illustrate the filter for flower, for man. Is there parity or clarity? His students are showing him the way.
He has noticed a shift in their sensitivities; they are bold, vocal, and active. They are investigating empathy. The closing panel provided great dialogue around broad issues of diversity, ethics, and interiority. A row of RISD students spoke about their ranks, their need to question, to not force passions on them. They have their own and will get to them.
Both Susan Doyle and Sheri Wills, Dean of Fine Arts, thanked the audience and presenters in their closing remarks. Everyone was ready for the reception at the RISD Library. After all, as Jaleen had remarked at the beginning, the Greek translation of symposium means drinking together. Finally!
Thank you, Illustration Research Network and RISD, for a provocative assembly in the name of illustration studies. May we all keep our pencils, eyeballs, and thinking sharp. Waterfire was a fitting parallel to all the bonfires set in the mind.
I’m eager to see the current production of The Mountaintop that just opened at Portland Stage. I worked on the illustration last winter, and as usual, learned so much in the research process. Katori Hall’s award-winning play is set at the Lorraine Motel, the night before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. I found this photo on-line. Seeing it brings a brutal reality all back, one that I didn’t understand when I was 9. I still don’t.
I began thinking by drawing.
The play involves an encounter between King and a maid, Camae, who brings him coffee and more than he bargained for.
I tried several approaches, some involving a transparent female figure against the iconic profile of King.
In this, I’m attempting the look of isolation before his fate.
In one scene, flowers magically cascade like tears from Camae’s eyes. I so wanted to draw that.
This is straight-forward literal: opening the motel door.
The first sketch got the nod, so I made a color version with possible placement of the play’s title and credit.
In the final illustration, I added stars digitally. There’s a powerful spirituality in the conclusion of the play.
Portland Stage and Dispatch Magazine are hosting a community conversation, Race and Performance in Maine, this Monday, November 9 at 7 PM at Salvage BBQ. Blues musician Samuel James, Portland City Councilor Jill Duson, and Rene Johnson, Director of Theater Ensemble of Color, will lead a discussion of the challenges and dimensions of “being a performer of any kind in a region as white as Maine.”
Let’s all go and learn, discuss, and understand each other better.
Thank you, Portland Stage.