Muchos MECA!

Posted by on Apr 29, 2016 in Art Classes, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art | 0 comments

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:


Meghan Wilson chose a Nautilus psychology article about animal self-awareness.


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.


In the halls, MECA work was all over in Through and Through, a display for the NASAD accreditation underway.

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.


In March, MECA enjoyed a visit from Bob Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of the New Yorker along with Emily Flake.


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!

Library Love

Posted by on Apr 13, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, Illustration, Island Birthday, Tilbury House, travels | 1 comment

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.


Such a pleasure to see familiar faces, like author Mary Atkinson and Tamra Wright.


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.



Portland Stage Season Launch

Posted by on Apr 4, 2016 in drawing, Illustration, pastels, Portland Stage Company | 4 comments

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!

Launching Land Forms at Ocean Avenue Elementary

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in drawing, Illustration, John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, pastels | 4 comments

Thanks to Side x Side, I had more adventures in second grade, this time at Ocean Avenue Elementary School in Portland, Maine. I’d received an out-0f-the-blue letter from a Professor Amir Sneedlebaum of the University of Papua New Guinea, as did my colleague, Pamela Moulton.


He also wrote to each of the second grade teachers as well.


He needs their help in creating a model island of diverse land forms, so that his team of researchers can study earth’s changes. Cool! Count me in!

I arrived in a costume quite suitable for me, a native of the White Mountains of New Hampshire!


I shared my letter with the classes and rolled in a mysterious package from the hall. Hidden beneath white stretchy fabric, a figure embodied three land forms in sound and movement: a mountain reaching tall, a waterfall so brisk, and a volcano exploding! And then, out crawled…Pamela! She pulled out an old suitcase and put on a new costume and shared her letter from the professor along with some of her recent work. She loves working in found materials and performance art.


The teachers, Tracy McGhie, Erin Partridge, and Kelley Nogar, then showed a slide show of land forms from all over the world: mountains and valleys, coastlines, islands, glaciers, hills and rivers,  waterfalls and cliffs, canyons and arches, caves, plateaus and plains, lakes with islands, mesas and buttes, volcanos, peninsulas, and even hoodoos! What is a hoodoo?!! Glad I can learn side by side with second graders to find out.

Students were asked to share what they saw, thought, and wondered. What a stellar team full of thinkers.


I arrived a couple of days later armed with boxes of natural objects, 2B pencils, Bristol paper, and magnifying glasses for close inspection. The study of land forms begins with observation. What are we looking at? How do we draw the shape and surface?


This young artist clearly has an interest in comics, with panels ready for story, and a feather on a page floating in the foreground of a distant island setting.


But wait, another package arrived from Professor Sneedlebaum.


He sent a hunk of amethyst! This student captured it’s many facets. It could even be a cross-section of a glacier.


This student is magnifying a bit of beehive.


I like how this student composed their specimens on the page, including the magnifying glass.


Next came another surprise, a model of a volcano with papers inside. Brave learners, these kids drawing out a mystery.


Each neighborhood of students drew the name of a land form to work on.


When I arrived for a second session of drawing, another exotic package awaited with the most beautiful stamps from Oceanie.


We all wondered the same things!


The package included photographs of land forms, sent by the Professor as handy reference for our drawing session.  Working on my recent book, John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, taught me a few things about drawing waterfalls, so I began with this quick demo.


Since I live on an island, it was lovely to see this dreamy pastel by a student quick with color.


How about this icy glacier!


That is one bold butte!


This is a work in progress, of river and hills.


I love how this artist used a hot orange paper to create dynamic color for this volcano.


Now the second graders have a new visual vocabulary for their land form mission. Next they are working with Pamela to create the island model. More adventures to come in the Earth Changes learning!

Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods

Posted by on Mar 16, 2016 in Illustration, Portland Stage Company | 3 comments

Portland Stage’s production of Tammy Ryan’s play Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods is powerful, thanks to strong performances by Tyrone Davis Jr. as Gabriel and Jamil Mangan as Panther,  young men from South Sudan struggling to bridge two worlds. I worked on the poster last year, around this time. Researching for any illustration project leads to discoveries, and this one broadened my awareness big time.

Gabriel is a one of the 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka tribes who were orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 – 2005.) He fled war to refugee camps to a job at Whole Foods in Pittsburgh, where he is befriended by a divorced single mother, Christine. All of my rough sketches focused on him.

In this one, the backdrop of a produce bin becomes a desert scene with cattle and a village.


I tried using the flag of South Sudan as a transparent element over the figure of Gabriel in his Whole Foods apron. His homeland colors everything about him.



I also tried using the papaya as a metaphor, split open like the sun in his village.


Here I drew Gabriel, whose tragic past is hidden by the bounty of produce he sorts at his job.


This is the one chosen for the final poster, shards of color behind Gabriel holding a papaya.


I kept my pastel drawing simple, but with visible strokes and smudges that imply Gabriel’s restless energy.


Once the production gets underway, I like seeing the poster in Portland Stage’s front window.


Around this time, I learned my illustration had been chosen for 3 x 3’s 2016 Illustration Directory,

where it landed in the Portrait section, next to an illustration by Anita Kunz, one of my illo idols.


We saw the play on Saturday, where I snuck this photo of the stage set.


The contrast in cultures is right there, Christine’s crisp white kitchen set against the cattle horns above. Chantal Jean-Pierre is stellar as the pragmatic Segel, who enlightens Christine on her compassionate but naive quest to help Gabriel by finding his mother in Kakuma.

The time and space America gives to the immigrant experience is a fraction of what is needed. In the end, Christine gets in deeper than she could have imagined. Lost Boy is an eye-opener, but changing one’s world view is a work-in-progress. I applaud the entire cast and Portland Stage for this unforgettable show.


Celebrating Literacy at PIES

Posted by on Mar 4, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, collage, drawing, Illustration, Island Birthday, Peaks Island, school visits, Seven Days of Daisy | 5 comments

It’s a treat to visit schools where literacy is celebrated. But it’s downright spectacular when it’s the island school down the street, where your own child learned to read.


The Peaks Island Elementary School invited Scott Nash, Anne Sibley O’Brien, and me to meet teachers and students who read our books and created book reviews, skits, and reports.

Teacher Leader Renee Bourgoine-Serio opened the evening with questions from kids. Mainly they wanted to know: WHEN is Scott coming out with a sequel to The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate?

And then the Draw Off began!

photo by Nancy Gibson-Nash

photo by Nancy Gibson-Nash

Requests from kids dictated our drawing mission, such as: draw a koala dragon riding a pug. In 90 seconds! GO!

Here is Scott’s:


Here is Annie’s response to : a flying hamburger eating a hamburger!


Scott, Annie, and I got into a huddle to pick a prompt for kids to guess WHAT we were each drawing. Can you? Here is Scott’s:


Here is mine:


Each request became more absurd. How about drawing a dog without looking at the paper? Here’s my blind drawing:


The next day, island teachers Kelly Mascolo, Charlie Marenghi, and Zoe Ryan-Humphrey showcased the real stars: their students displaying super literacy powers!


Here is Talullah reading her review of Martian Rock.


Other aliens acted out scenes from the book in resourceful costumes.

Scott is proud of the only scene in picture book history of brain surgery: from Tuff Fluff: The Case of Duckie’s Missing Brain.


I was thrilled that kids did scenes from Island Birthday and Seven Days of Daisy.

What DO seagulls talk about? Bagels, of course. Gotta love these flapping seagulls!


All the actors took a bow.


Next the book reports received an enthusiastic audience, especially from Annie, who pointed out her daughter posed for both the child and adult in this book.

I loved the comic panels drawn for this report on Cows Going Past.


Older students created diary entries in the voice of a book’s character. What a fun collage!


The enthusiasm of our island students is beyond measure. I’m grateful for this community and their sharp learners, who bring more inspiration than they could ever know. Thank you, Peaks Island School! And to Willow, for her cool hairstyle.


Sketchbook Studio @ the PMA

Posted by on Feb 21, 2016 in Art Classes, collage, drawing, Maine College of Art | 0 comments

Before I headed into my Sketchbook Studio event at the Portland Museum of Art on Wednesday, I spun through some favorite books about drawing. They always lift my spirits.


In The Undressed Art: why we draw author Peter Steinhart quotes Matisse:

“Drawing is the precision of thought.”

My colleague in illustration, Cat Bennett, who leads a Saturday Morning Drawing group, quotes Picasso in The Confident Creative:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

John Hendrix claims in Drawing Is Magic, “If you treat your sketchbook like a playground, it will turn into a treasure map.”

Words all good for my sword arm in drawing with anyone I meet. What a wonderful parade of sketchers who turned up!


Louisa Donelson, Associate Educator for Youth Learning at the museum, wheeled in an art cart chock full of supplies. We began by making prototypes as the Masterworks on Paper show beckoned.


We folded papers and snapped on an elastic for handy binding. I also shared one of my sketchbooks, which includes this quick drawing from a ferry ride one early morning.


In my illustration class at Maine College of Art, the junior students and I draw for the first fifteen minutes. Each one brings in an object for observational studies. Cody brought his alarm clock.


Sketchbooks are vessels for noticing and interpreting one’s world, as well as for detailing ideas, like these quick ones for a poster I worked on.


Two sisters made these sketchbooks with collage covers.


This young artist drew several pages in which her toy, Squeeky, had comic adventures.


More lovely collage work here.


Near the end of the day, I met a dad with two eager sons. Cohen and I drew polar bears together.


Thanks to the PMA for hosting a feast of paper possibilities! So many sketchbooks await their magic.


East End Fairy Tale

Posted by on Feb 18, 2016 in Illustration, school visits | 5 comments

Once upon a time, on a cold winter’s day, Red Riding Hood set off through the woods to her Nana’s house.

Her basket was full of pencils and paper because she loved to draw. Just for a moment, Red thought she saw a wolf.

She decided it was just the shadows in the snow tricking her eyes. She kept going, all the way across Casco Bay to Portland where Nana lived.

She climbed a steep hill and heard children’s voices. Red Riding Hood couldn’t resist going inside the big building with so many windows. She gasped when she saw all the welcoming words in so many languages!


A smiling teacher named Ms. Mosher invited Red into her classroom. The second grade students told her a story about Cinderella, and how mice turned into horses and pumpkins into a coach. Whaaat?!! Red Riding Hood couldn’t believe it. Each of them drew pictures to show her.

Look at this spotty pumpkin, and this mouse eating cheese. “Oh, now I see,” said Red.


Red loved these drawings, one mouse more full than the other. Too much cheese?


She marveled at the beautiful crown that Cinderella wore at the ball. And how, when the clock chimed midnight, the coach turned back into a spotty pumpkin.


Then Red Riding Hood went to another classroom, where Ms. Floridino’s class told her a story that sounded mighty familiar. A girl with a red hood, a basket JUST LIKE hers, and there was a wolf, too!


Red was very impressed by the details that everyone drew so carefully.


“Oh, no!” cried Red, “That looks like the wolf I saw this morning!”


Seriously, the drawings were eerily accurate. It made Red Riding Hood a little nervous.


She was relieved to see this drawing of a pine cone, one of her favorite things in the forest.


But then this scary wolf made her scream! Red Riding Hood ran into the next classroom.


The teacher there, Ms. Bergman, calmed Red down. The students told her another story, all about three pigs that couldn’t decide what house to build.

Red delighted in their pig drawings! This one looked like he was tip-toeing very delicately, maybe hoping another wolf won’t find him. Red knew this feeling.


And this little pig is quite sure that nothing is going to blow his house down. NO WAY.


This pig is so brave and pink. Stand tall, y’all!


But even Ms. Bergman was drawing a wolf! A very elegant and not mean wolf, to Red’s relief.


When Red saw this Big Bad Wolf, she got nervous again.


But somebody drew a big brick house, and the pigs were safe after all. Whew!


She headed into another room, where Ms. Pelletier’s class was waiting. They told Red a story about Goldilocks and three bears. No wolves, thank you very much. Red is very fond of bears.


Each bear was so lovable, like this Mama and Baby Bear.


Don’t forget Papa Bear!


They drew the bowl and spoon for the porridge that was just right, not too hot or too cold.


This is the chair before it broke. Poor Goldilocks!


Suddenly Red Riding Hood got hungry. She remembered she still had to walk through more woods to Nana’s house. She thanked all the great artists for sharing their stories and drawings with her. Off she went down the hill where the forest was only a little bit dark.

How glad Red Riding Hood was to see her Nana’s house at last!

As she ate her favorite snack, Red told Nana all about the great friends she met, full of admiration for their art and stories.

“Thank you, East End School second graders!” said Red Riding Hood, and she lived happily ever after, with pencils and paper always Side x Side in her basket.

Dear Watson

Posted by on Feb 2, 2016 in drawing, Illustration, Portland Stage Company | 0 comments

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.

Sweet Art Pops Up @ Portland Museum of Art

Posted by on Jan 27, 2016 in collage, Illustration, Maine College of Art | 0 comments

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!