String Around My Finger

Posted by on Apr 21, 2017 in Illustration, pastels, Portland Stage Company | 3 comments

Over a year ago, I read the script for Brenda Wither’s play, String Around My Finger, now in it’s final run at Portland Stage Company. As someone who has suffered infant loss, the comedic tone seemed too light then. The aftermath of such an event is devastating, confusing, and heavy. In the play, Emma’s had a miscarriage, and everyone else is ignoring her trauma, trying to keep up good cheer while navigating realities.

To tackle illustrating this, my initial ideas played with the literal visual of a string around a finger. The first was a baby hand that looms over small figures, the string swirling around a couple.


I tried a woman’s hand, with a hospital bracelet, and a group of small figures, the various characters who orbit around Emma.


The miscarriage, the medical bills, and other pressures begin to unravel the couple’s plans. I tried two figures pulling at the string of one large hand.


I tried a hospital bed, with an IV tube that would connect the title. Ugh.


Fortunately, this idea was chosen. Emma and Kip are holding on for dear life, with a wedding band and engagement ring floating around them, implying everything is up in the air.


I created each element separately on paper (the pastel background, the hand, the figures, the rings, the hand-lettered title), then scanned and merged them digitally in Photoshop. This is the final illustration.


As the 2015 winner of Portland Stage’s Clauder Competition, the script was further worked during last summer’s Little Festival of the Unexpected. Under the nimble direction of Sally Wood, the play has debuted with unexpected depth and poignancy.

When I attended last week, the sight of the hospital bed triggered my distant loss, and might for anyone who’s had to face medical realities.


Anita Stewart’s set design was brilliantly seamless, with stage crew dressed in scrubs striding in and out of gliding hospital walls as scenes changed.

Frank Sinatra music plays in the background. Here’s a drawing of Frank from an old sketchbook of mine.


You can hear his version of I’ve Got the World on a String HERE.

I’ve got the world on a string, sittin’ on a rainbow,
Got the string around my finger,
What a world, what a life, I’m in love!

Perfect lyrics that actually contrast with the ambivalent ending of the play. Go see for yourself, it’s the last weekend!


What’s Up in IL 2?

Posted by on Apr 17, 2017 in Art Classes, drawing, Illustration, Maine College of Art, pastels, Peaks Island | 7 comments

Between illustration deadlines , I’ve been teaching Illustration 2 at Maine College of Art. This sophomore level elective is open to any student, and usually includes those interested in majoring in Illustration or Digital Media. There are two sections, and mine has 10 amazing people! While Illustration 1 involves an emphasis on black and white media, IL 206 focuses on color, concept development, and putting images into context, with a design layout provided.

The first day of class students were presented with pastel pencils, colored paper and sand paper, and a grab bag of toy animals. They chose 3 colors and paper scraps, and then drew a surprise from a bag. Limitations of color can spark unexpected serendipity.


Drawings by William Kittredge



Drawings by Taryn Perry

We have begun every class with an observational drawing session of 15 – 20 minutes, with students providing one or two objects. Not only a good exercise, it’s a chance to warm up before we focus on the project at hand. Will brought in an object he had just assembled, drawn here by Peter Maloney.


Drawing by Peter Maloney


Drawing by Emily Carlson

Drawing by Emily Carlson


Project 1 involved illustrating one of 3 fables for a book jacket. Early classes include brainstorming ideas, followed by sketch development. We also had a live model session, in which some handy props conjured some fable characters.


Drawing by Taryn Perry

Warm-ups with short poses using ink captured quick gestures.


And longer poses involving more props and color.


Drawing by Thomas D’Amore

After a couple of snow days and much sketching, final illustrations were submitted in the context of the cover design. It’s an additional leap for students to work within a given layout, pairing image and text together, choosing colors to balance and contrast, while allowing room for legibility.

Illustration by Fred Aldrich

Illustration by Fred Aldrich


Illustration by Sarah Sawtelle


Illustration by William Kittredge

Illustration by William Kittredge

We moved onto Project 2, illustrating a tea package. Students were given a template, but could create an imaginary tea flavor to cover the package. This one referenced a Japanese landscape and still life.


Illustration by Andrew Moran

Sam created several individual images that she layered into her final design.


Illustration by Sam Myrdek

Thomas created a pattern of marijuana leaves for a wallpaper backdrop for his medicinal blend.

Illustration by Thomas D'Amore

Illustration by Thomas D’Amore

I brought in some deer skulls borrowed from an island neighbor for one of the observational drawing sessions.

Drawing by Thomas D'Amore

Drawing by Thomas D’Amore



Drawing by Frederick Aldrich

We met for one class in the Joanne Waxman Library, where Library Director Shiva Darbandi shared this quote:

“Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.” -Author Sidney Sheldon
We played a game I call Library Lines. Students draw a prompt from a hat, which is a category related to illustration, located on the shelves.
They find that area, choose a book from the stacks, and make a tracing from an image found in that book. Sam is making a tracing here.
They repeat this 7 times, tracing from other books found, so the final image is a layered linear collage. Each drawing represents several deliberate choices, each step informed by the one before. Hopefully there are surprises, such as discovering the resources at hand, while making an image triggered by impulse. Sam’s resulted in a lyrical use of text with crisp juxtapositions.
Drawing by Sam Myrdek

Drawing by Sam Myrdek


This one makes bold use of variations in line weight, with an implied narrative of violent history.


Drawing by Owen Scott

Drawing by Owen Scott

This exercise was a lead into Project 3, an editorial assignment that called for interpreting one of three magazine articles. A majority of the class chose a piece from an award-winning science magazine, Nautilus, about engineering luck into game design. Owen’s piece touches on the aspect of luck as a belief in the gods, with luck symbols lining the steps of a Mayan-like temple of good fortune.
Illustration by Owen Scott

Illustration by Owen Scott


Taryn created a slot machine with a lucky winner oblivious to the furtive mechanic behind the machine.


Illustration by Taryn Perry

Illustration by Taryn Perry


Peter illustrated a game environment in which a player’s own handle is pulled by the game, referencing a point in the article about the manipulation of players’ perceptions about chance.



Illustration by Peter Maloney


In Project 4, students were asked to create a 3D character.  For our next class, we had a surprise visitor in the form of Pepper, an African pygmy hedgehog belonging to MECA alum (and former student) Andi Croak.




She skittered about the table, but everyone managed a few sketches.


Drawings by Peter Maloney

Drawings by Peter Maloney


Pepper felt most at home burrowing into Andi’s sweatshirt.




Andi brought in a few of her recent 3D works, and discussed the materials, obstacles, and rewards of creating them.


Students began sketching ideas and playing with Sculpy and other materials.


Sketches and prototype by Sarah Sawtelle

Sketches and prototype by Sarah Sawtelle


sketches and work in progress by Sam Myrdek

sketches and work in progress by Sam Myrdek


Before the final critique, Sam brought photography equipment to shoot their pieces for a card set, which is in production as I write. For the final crit, students assembled their preliminary sketches, the photograph of their piece, the actual 3D piece, and a drawing made afterwards of their piece. Bringing 2D into three-dimensional form, and back into 2D reproduction is a circle with many layers of challenge.

Joe Rosshirt was a student when I first assigned this project, in 2008.  He went on to create several 3D characters during his years as a MECA illustration major. Now a freelance illustrator and animator, Joe currently co-teaches a Junior Seminar here, and agreed to be a guest critter.




Everyone had frustrations with materials, yet remarkable discoveries were made. I am always impressed with the efforts and perseverance of my students!


Photograph and sculpture by Emily Carlson


Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by William Kittredge

Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by William Kittredge


Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by Sarah Sawtelle

Photograph by Sam Myrdek, illustration and sculpture by Sarah Sawtelle


At this point in the semester, the class needed a break. They made a field trip to visit my studio on Peaks Island, a welcome dose of fresh air, sunshine, and a two-cent tour of the island. Plus, refreshments!





Now they are working on Project 5, the last assignment. They will illustrate a gig poster for their favorite band. They will design their own layouts and consider typography.


When we returned to class the next time, I gave a word prompt, to illustrate a word with 5 – 8 letters. I’ve given this prompt before, and I am always delighted by the results.


Lettering by Emily Carlson

Lettering by Emily Carlson

Lettering by Andrew Moran

Lettering by Andrew Moran



Lettering by William Kittredge

Lettering by William Kittredge


Next class we will draw from the model again, with musical instruments for props. Drawing from the figure is always useful, and we may listen to the bands chosen.

The semester has flown by, working alongside these nimble folks. They have brainstormed together, drawn together, and stretched themselves. It’s an honor to share the classroom with them. Onward, Illustration 2!





Prickly Picture Book Program on Peaks

Posted by on Apr 12, 2017 in A Porcupine's Promenade, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, Island Birthday, Peaks Island, Portland Public Library, Tilbury House | 2 comments

Many thanks to the Peaks Island Branch Library for hosting our Prickly Picture Book Program on Saturday morning.


I couldn’t resist making something sweet and prickly, too. (Do try this at home, a pile of warm brownies pierced with toothpicks is a very fun sculpture to make and then eat!)


It was a pleasure to have Lyn Smith, the author of A Porcupine’s Promenade visit Peaks Island.


As a reading specialist, Lyn enjoys reading aloud.  She makes these porcupine noises that I just cannot fathom how.


I talked a bit before making a visual presentation, about how I came to illustrate this book.


We can thank Maine Authors Publishing for bringing us together. I shared some of my process, such as drawing the first porcupine close-up. I had to imagine one without all it’s quills first, a prickle-less Priscilla. My sharp strokes had to be precise and in the right direction. I am quite sure I procrastinated at this point, and went for a walk.


I also shared some of the rough sketch ideas for the book jacket. This was an early favorite that did not become the cover.


I brought some pastel pencils, paper, and some nature objects for those inclined to draw.


In the sweetest of gestures, two artists gave me one of their drawings. This is Avery’s cheerful mountain of gratitude.


Here is Louise’s vivid sunset. She is also wearing some pastel, which often happens to me while I work with color dust!


After book signing, Lyn got our two-cent tour of the island, which includes driving past the ocean and through the many woods, still shrouded in snow. All too quickly, she left for home, warmed by making new island friends.


Marty Braun, Jamie Hogan, and Lyn Smith photo © Anne Dennison

During this National Library Week, I am SO grateful for the support of our island library. These two, Rose Ann Walsh and Priscilla Webster, contribute greatly to our book-loving community. I begin any project by going there, and they always find things I didn’t know I was looking for. When I was illustrating Island Birthday, I even got them to model for me for a scene that takes place in a post office. Here is a detail.


As author Neil Gaiman has said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Thanks to my community for coming to learn about our book, you make my heart sing!






Buyer & Cellar

Posted by on Mar 18, 2017 in drawing, Illustration, Portland Stage Company | 0 comments

Between shoveling snow and illustration deadlines, the winter is blasting by. Hard to believe it’s actually spring break for those of us at MECA, MICA, and MCLA. Post-blizzard, we enjoyed finally seeing Portland Stage’s current production, Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins.

About the same time last year, I was in a mad rush (like this year) to illustrate posters for the entire season. The hilarious script features the famously nimble Dustin Tucker, who plays Alex Moore, as the imagined shop-keeper in the basement boutique on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate, where she keeps her collections in real life. Yes, really. He also plays Barbra, her husband, and two other characters.

These were my early quick sketches. This one references the So-Cal location.


How about the shop-keeper with an iconic Barbra profile?


Barbra has a soft-serve machine in her shop…


It’s a deft play of power dynamics. While Alex is at Barbra’s beck and call, he discovers her vulnerabilities.


It goes both ways. Here he has Barbra in the palm of his hand, like one of her many dolls.


I played with another scale shift, making Alex the small figure next to Barbra’s enormous shopping bag, a metaphor for her insatiable  shopping.


This one references Alex waiting at the bottom of the stairs, Barbra’s eyes in a gilded mirror.


Sketch #2 got the nod, so I began by drawing Dustin. Not the best likeness, he’s way more handsome. I illustrated the costume he is given in the script, although he doesn’t wear it in the performance. Because these posters have so many different applications, I often do them in pieces that are merged in Photoshop. Elements can be reused in multiple formats.


I had the hardest time drawing Barbra.

9-barbra_blogThe chandelier became her earring.





Burgundy is apparently one of her favorite colors. I made a pastel backdrop for the other drawings.


The color looked a bit dead, so it got brightened when I added the other elements.

11final_blogThe drawing for the shop cabinet stayed simple to not compete with the main characters.12cabinet_blog

I loved the set by Meg Anderson! 


The spare and elegant design left room for Dustin’s virtuoso performance, with the spotlight always on that aspirational book, My Passion for Design, stage center. Even if you’re not a Barbra fan, Buyer & Cellar is non-stop entertainment. Look, my amused guests enjoyed it. Go see for yourself, it’s on stage til March 26.


Marty and Daisy Braun, Jonathan Hoel, Melissa Sweet, and Jamie Hogan, photo by Mark Holden

100 days smarter

Posted by on Feb 23, 2017 in A Porcupine's Promenade, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, pastels, school visits | 4 comments

Last week I had the good fortune to visit another stellar school: Kennebunkport Consolidated School. Author Lyn Smith and I received a warm welcome from first grade teachers and set up in Mrs. Roberts’ room.


There was evidence all over the place that students here are on the ball. I need one of these oversize pencils as a prop, since I’m always talking about keeping our eyes and pencils sharp.


We attended the Friday morning assembly, where I spied this ingenious banner in the hall. The entire school was celebrating the first 100 days of learning.


After the pledge, the school song, announcements, a dance, and watching a Kid President video, we were duly warmed up for hearing Lyn read her book, A Porcupine’s Promenade.


Such good listeners! They wanted to know how the book was made. Lyn told them it is a true story, but she made up the boy, Bailey. I talked about my process and shared my book dummy and sketchbook, and a pile of supplies and nature objects.


Lyn gave everyone a sketchbook, and they began their observational studies.


This artist did three different studies of a sea star.


I like that this artist found great color matches for their drawing, and imagined 6 eggs nestled inside.


Careful noticing going on here.


I noticed this artist wearing deer all over her, while drawing an antler.


And that careful butterfly is now flying up to a tall blooming flower! They picked up on my tales of illustrating with both observation and imagination.


Lyn spotted one student writing observations down.


It was gratifying when Karen Bubar, the principal, took time to share in the discovery.


My heart sang when Caroline gave me her mini pastel masterpieces. Thank you!


Michelle Roberts and Lyn are former colleagues, and remain proud advocates of children’s literacy.


On the ride home, we rode through the Wells Reserve past Laudholm Farm, where Lyn is doing a reading and activity for their Winter Wildlife Day. Like RIGHT NOW! Looking up at these tall trees, I wondered if Priscilla might be napping there.


In the book, this is my final illustration. Do porcupines dream?


Thanks to the Kennebunk Education Foundation for another great encounter with kids, books, and drawing!

Between Books and Blizzards

Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 in Children's Book Illustration, collage, Illustration, Peaks Island, Tilbury House | 2 comments

When I saw the forecast a week ago, I dared to ship all my original art to Tilbury House instead of driving there in a blizzard. Not an easy decision, given I’ve had this work in my head and on my table for the past five months. Whew! Ana and the Sea Star by R. Lynne Roelfs will be out in Fall 2017.


Driving down front to the post office on Peaks Island, all was quiet before the storm. Even us chickens.


I’m a snail mailer from way back, so the island post office is an almost daily destination. Isn’t it cute?


Once the storm picked up steam, I ventured out for a weather report of my own. The first foot of snow is normal enough.


Cue the sound effects here: crashing waves and howling wind.


I hiked up to Tolman Heights, no sledders in sight.


Wow, like magic, my husband hero had begun shoveling.


My studio is one of the coziest places I know, so I holed up with my valentine supplies.


I heard my Ana and the Sea Star art had arrived safely, and made this card in honor of all those letter carriers delivering love to every corner.


I also made some sweetness for my own valentine, because what good is a blizzard without baking?


We enjoyed a lovely valentine date last night at Vignola, and looked for heart-shaped icebergs on the ride home.


Found these delicious cards upon return. Thank you, beloved peeps!


Above, top row: Eleanor Morse, Marty Braun, Kim Traina. Bottom row: Mary Anne Lloyd, Katherine Mahoney, and Inky Blue design (sent by Emma McCabe.)

Now it’s back to the drawing board on new projects before the next blizzard….stay warm, everyone.


Portland Stage fun

Posted by on Feb 7, 2017 in Illustration, Island Birthday, Portland Stage Company | 2 comments


On a bitter cold Saturday morning, the colorful sight of Portland Stage’s Executive Director Anita Stewart warmed me right up. It was the Theater for Kids 7th birthday and Island Birthday was being featured in their Play Me a Story production. I was delighted to be on hand to witness the theatrical reading. But first, party hats were a necessary prop!


Actors voiced different characters and provided sound affects. Below James Patefield (middle) plays Riley, the lead character in Island Birthday who is tired of being out of milk, and living on a remote island. (James was bully good as Teddy Roosevelt in Arsenic and Old Lace as well.)


After two books and two poems were performed, the chairs were removed to the sides of the theater and actors gathered the children in a circle to talk about what acting tools are: imagination, body, and voice. Kids were led through a series of absurd prompts, like chewing gum into a huge bubble that bursts on your face and all over your body and must be pulled off with icky dismay. Hilarious! They also became noises in a thundering storm, and brave pilots took turns flying through the raucous mob of bodies.


You just might want to get in on this action, every Saturday coming up, with more wonderful books in line, details HERE.

It thoroughly put me in the mood for seeing the current production, Arsenic and Old Lace. I worked on the poster about a year ago. These are a few of the rough sketches I presented for consideration.


Of course, I watched the classic film first, and was spooked by Jonathan Brewster, the creepy older brother.


I was also desperate to draw some lace and romance.



The tension between the dark thriller and the comedy seemed like a good contrast for scars and lace. Or being tied up.



Eyes peering out of lace? Maybe too hokey.


Lovers in a bottle? This was the idea that got the nod.


I found lovely lace samples in a recent copy of Uppercase Magazine.



I did my drawing thinking the lace was full of spying eyes. I inverted the drawing in Photoshop so it would appear white. And of course, I got out some wine for reference, and maybe a little imbibing. Part of the job, c,mon.



This is the final illustration, with some wonky ellipses, which are so challenging.


What a blast to see the amazing set design by Brittany Vasta when I attended the Sunday performance. She did the sets for three other plays for which I did the poster art: The Whipping Man, A Song at Twilight, and My Name Is Asher Lev. Love how the wallpaper pattern here echoes the lace theme.


And the wine glasses match, too!


It helps when you are with a gang that loves comedy. Doug Smith, in the bottom left, is my island neighbor who first got me in the door at Portland Stage, and has also illustrated many posters for them.


photo by James Flagler

We stuck around for the discussion with the cast after the performance. Led by Literary Manager Todd Backus (far right), the cast reappeared out of costume, one by one, with hearty applause.


It was informative to hear about their process of preparation, auditioning or not, how they are all thrown together for a mere three weeks of rehearsal, with no understudies. Actress Leighton Bryan (Elaine Harper) rehearsed early on with a sprained ankle, carried about the stage by Ross Cowan, her fiance (Mortimer Brewster) in the play.

Portland Stage has pulled off another winner with this vintage chestnut, go see for yourself!

Women’s March

Posted by on Jan 27, 2017 in travels | 13 comments


drawing by Jamie Hogan

You know it’s serious when an introverted, crowd-averse, middle-aged peep decides to go to the NYC Women’s March.

But how could I not? I joined my neighbors, Nicole d’Entremont and Eleanor Morse, both writers and veteran activists for civil rights, peace, and the environment. Nicole and I left serene sunshine on Peaks Island, crossed Casco Bay, and took the bus to NYC, where a soft drizzle greeted us.


photo by Jamie Hogan

We walked to Chelsea where I met our host, Fran, and her friend, Shirley, who is a Raging Granny. Here’s my sketch of Shirley in her Pucci scarf.


Drawing by Jamie Hogan

She invited us to join the opening ceremonies at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in the morning. So we did.


photo by Jamie Hogan

It was a tight mob of buoyant citizens, many signs and so many smiles. Rosie Perez introduced several of the speakers.


photo by Jamie Hogan

Whoopie Goldberg addressed the crowd, saying “The change is on us! This is just the beginning.”


photo by Jamie Hogan

There were songs, more speakers, including a hello from Dame Helen Mirren and a welcome from New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray. We sang our national anthem together and then we were off, literally like a herd of turtles, inching ever so slowly over to the street. This is Nicole and Fran, in the foreground, ready to hoist our banner, painted by Marty Braun.


photo by Jamie Hogan

It served right away as a connector between us, the crowd was so thick. We chatted with other sign-makers.


photo by Jamie Hogan

I met a fellow biker, proudly sporting her pink hat.


photo by Jamie Hogan

It seemed to take forever to reach the end of the block but everyone was in a good mood.


photo by Jamie Hogan

Finally, we made it to Second Avenue where we could actually march. Onward!


photo by Nicole d’Entremont

When we turned onto 42nd Street, I was overwhelmed with pride for the marchers, as far as the eye could see! Yes, this is what democracy looks like. Somebody joked, yeah, like gridlock.


photo by Jamie Hogan

By the time we reached Grand Central Station, we needed a pit stop.


photo by Jamie Hogan

As did everyone else. We’d been on our feet for almost six hours. Really?!! We left the march and headed back to Chelsea. Friends elsewhere were marching, too. Here is Madeline Sorel and friends, somewhere near us.


photo by Madeline Sorel

And Doris Ruth Barton, also in NYC.


photo by Mary EllRoy

Back in Maine, a group of Peaks Island kids had the same idea for the Portland march.


photo by Olwyn Moxhay

My heart sang to see a photo of my neighbors filling the ferry, feisty as ever.


photo by Patricia Erikson

The Portland March drew 10,000! Here an invincible Zahara stands firm on the Eastern Prom.


photo by Mary Anne Lloyd

The hand-made nature of signage is a beautiful thing.


photo by Olwyn Moxhay

Up in Augusta, my cousin Wanda was with friends and family.


photo by Wanda McDonough

Fellow islander Jane Banquer reported the crowd in August was too big to move.


photo by Jane Banquer

Meanwhile, islander Carol Young, on the far right, met up with friends in DC.



Daisy brought her sign to a protest in Baltimore.


photo by Daisy Braun

Her roommate Ellie took note that the new administration has deleted quite a few pages from the White House website.


photo by Daisy Braun

On Sunday, Nicole and I walked along the High Line. This manifesto by Zoe Leonard from 1992 remains potent.


photo by Jamie Hogan

Signs, signs, everywhere about what is going down.


Photo by Jamie Hogan



photo by Jamie Hogan

Given what’s happened in just a few days, we got way more more marching and resisting to do.





Sharp eyes in Kennebunk

Posted by on Jan 18, 2017 in A Porcupine's Promenade, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, pastels, school visits | 2 comments


When Lyn Smith, author of A Porcupine’s Promenade, promised to introduce me to Henry, I could barely wait. Why didn’t I meet this friendly fellow last July when I was working on my illustrations? Henry is a male North American porcupine who has lived at the Center for Wildlife since November 2014. He was mistakenly taken home by some well-meaning folks who thought he was abandoned at the base of a tree. Did you know porcupine mothers climb and forage in trees before their young can climb along? I learned a lot illustrating Lyn’s story; it was a surprise to me that they climb, and I had fun working on this illustration for the book.


Once Henry was habituated to human contact, his survival in the wild is at risk. He is one of 23 ambassadors who visit schools and engage the public in wildlife education. I fed Henry a carrot before he toddled off after some smell, only to be blocked by Katie Brodeur, Education Fellow with the Education and Outreach Program, who cheerfully scooped him up before he disappeared under a building.


She graciously gave us a tour of all the other animals, including a pair of barred owls named Bianca and Byron (I think this is Byron) who arrived in 1995 after being hit by cars.


For owls and other predators, roadsides lure them with discarded human food scraps and can be deadly. In their cases, they both sustained permanent injury to their wings. Bianca has fostered over 40 barred owlets who have then been released back to the wild!

Lyn gave me a tour of Wells before hosting me at her home filled with collections of shells, gemstones, duck decoys, and more. Her husband, Brian, is a science teacher and avid outdoorsman, as well as the source of her porcupine story. They are thrilled with Lyn’s new sign!


I sketched one of the two deer mounted in their cozy den.


We were up before the moon set to visit Kennebunk Elementary School, where Lyn works as a reading specialist. What a beautiful school, filled with art and amazing learners!


I set up in the Learning Lab. After the morning assembly, we would meet there with 5 classes of first graders, thanks to a grant from the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks & Arundel. Thank you for the opportunity to engage students with visual literacy!


I brought my sketchbooks, my dummy for the book, a box of nature objects, pastels and pencils, some scraps of sandpaper, and each student was given a nature journal. They could also hug a fuzzy porcupine puppet.

Lyn introduced me to staff before the assembly. Excellent displays everywhere!


Principal Ryan Quinn made opening remarks at the assembly with the help of some students. The chorus sang, birthdays were announced, and then Lyn read her book while the audience watched the illustrations on big monitors.


I shared a slide show of my process for creating the illustrations and then we met the team of Teen Trendsetters, a group of Kennebunk High School students who created a fantastic book trailer on our behalf. They mentor 20 first graders every week as part of a program coordinated by Joy Russo and funded by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. How cool is that?

When the first graders arrived, I let them feel the edges of this opening piece. I draw on sanded paper, so the pastel pigment will stick to the rough surface.


They began their observational studies with keen detail.


Guess who joined the mix? Principal Ryan Quinn, who engaged a table of eager artists.


Pine cones are not easy to draw, but this drawing is off to a great capturing of complexity. It’s all about point of view.


This artist has drawn a colorful scene, making use of the blue page to suggest the cold day.


A good part of nature studies is the handling of an object. How does the surface feel? What are the patterns?


There’s a lot of serious focus going on! The choice of color, the placement of marks, the image taking shape…


This artist was clearly excited about the pastel and the sandpaper. He made several small studies to arrange in a group.


This artist made intuitive blends of warm and cool contrasts and taped her sandpaper into the sketchbook.


This artist was drawing from an unidentified bone I found on the beach. He was repeating the bone shape into a dinosaur skeleton, an imaginative leap just like a paleontologist!


And then he drew around the shapes with gusto.


All day, I was delighted by the associations made, the curious wonder of making marks, and their enthusiasm. How about this prickly porcupine with bold quills?


As each class lined up to leave, Lyn gave them a copy of her book, which we had both signed.


This is Abby, who told me she had written and illustrated her own book about a lion. Keep those eyes and pencils sharp!


Many thanks to the first grade teachers for sharing their incredible students. And for the use of magnifying glasses to scrutinize the details!

Lyn and I left with these fun souvenirs.


Lyn will be reading and signing her book this Saturday at Mt. Agamenticus, where a Story Walk of A Porcupine’s Promenade is featured on the trails. Get outside and enjoy the wild wonders of Maine!



Kick Off ’17

Posted by on Jan 9, 2017 in A Porcupine's Promenade, Art Classes, Children's Book Illustration, drawing, Illustration, Island Birthday, Maine College of Art, pastels, Peaks Island, Portland Stage Company, school visits | 4 comments


Everybody seemed eager to kick 2016 into history. Yeah, there were losses, that Election, hate, and plenty of things I want to forget. But a New Year…is a perennial place for hope. An earnest band of neighbors called the Get a Grip club gathered at our house on New Year’s Eve, armed with resolutions of change, good humor, and some hand-made glasses we will use for envisioning a better world.


Rest assured, we will keep a grip on what matters!

A few days later I visited King Middle School, a hive of young people poised to take over the world. It was my 9th outing as a visiting artist for their World Languages Art Expedition Kick-Off. Local artists of all stripes share their work and wisdom to rotating groups of students who will choose a French or Spanish-speaking artist, write a paper in that language, and  create art inspired by that artist. I’ve been participating since my daughter, Daisy, was a King student, and for the second year, she joined me as a visiting artist, too.

Fellow presenter Jenny Van West strummed her guitar before the event began, looking over my table of books, posters, pastels, and props.


I shared the dummy for Island Birthday, in which I used my neighbor, Nikolai, as a model. He’s also a King sixth grader now, and will likely do this project when he hits eighth grade.


Showed them the finished illustration. I brought some scraps of the sandpaper I use, and some of them got dirty with a handful of pastels. Island Birthday will be featured on Jan. 28 at Portland Stage’s Play Me a Story!


I brought a sketchbook, never one to waste an opportunity to promote the value of drawing. I’ve begun some of my MECA illustration classes with an observational exercise in which students bring in objects for a 15 minute session. Art students often bring in toys. This is my sketch of what Gunnar Johnson brought; it was a challenge with so many parts.


And here is a MECA student I spied in the library, looking like Rapunzel checking her e-mail.


Five rounds of students asked questions, took notes, or doodled. When it was done, kids could wander to other tables they hadn’t been assigned. Daisy had a rapt audience.


She shared her MICA portfolio on her laptop, as well as an old self-portrait from Portland High School.


Also some of her figure drawings from a MECA Continuing Studies class. She used these when she applied to colleges.


She showed a couple of commissions, too, like this cover illustration for the Island Directory. Plenty of island kids recognized it.


Daisy designed this t-shirt using similar sinuous tangles for a local cultural exchange organization.


We owe the ties that bind to Daisy’s beloved French teacher, Ms. Zack, who spearheaded the language arts project years ago.


Thanks to the King teachers and all the great students who asked the best questions, like “do you regret your choice?” Never! I asked some of them who they are choosing to research. One student is reporting on a Bolivian pastel artist, Roberto Mamani Mamani. I looked up his work; thanks for the inspiration! Another asked what I did for inspiration, and my answer was 1) taking a walk and 2) going to see art. Daisy and I stopped at UNE’s Art Gallery to see Pastels Only, the 17th Annual International Juried Exhibition of the Pastel Painters of Maine. Cool work!


Walking on Peaks Island always brings an open mind and renews my energies.


I’m working now on a new picture book for Tilbury House. Everything is on the table when I begin, the dummy, my reference photos, and my chosen pastels.


Later this week I make another school visit, to Kennebunk Elementary School, where author Lyn Smith works as a reading specialist. We will present our book, A Porcupine’s Promenade. Here’s a detail from the first page.


Can’t wait to meet the kids who inspire her, and maybe a porcupine, too! Stay tuned, 2017 promises to be full of art, learning, and travels.