Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sweet Workshop

Back in the studio after a week in the Northwest. My eyes are adjusting to the bright prairie light, after all the dense green Pacific lush.
Part of the reason for flying to Seattle was to attend a Western Washington SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. A roster of top-notch editors, agents and authors filled the faculty, but my big pull was taking an illustrator's workshop with Melissa Sweet, one of my favorite illustrator/authors. Ever since becoming aware of her work (The Boy Who Drew Birds, River of Words, and most recently Balloons over Broadway), I've adored her collaged watercolor style and fresh color palette.
Last Friday afternoon, several illustrators gathered together with a pile of collage-able materials (fabric, papers, magazines, etc.). Melissa was a gracious, engaging presenter and soon she had us in her world of semi 3-D creation. Many beautiful, everyday objects inspire Melissa's work. If she loves it and it can be glued down, it's going to be part of her art; buttons, snippets of old photos, maps, textiles, old book jackets. She is a recycler extraoridinaire. She's a lover of old-type faces, and a connoissuer of shape and color. A philosophy from a mentor, to make something new by lovingly vandalizing something old, informs her entire process.
As I listened to her, I wrote in my notes "Pinch me- this is Melissa Sweet." It was then our turn to try collage ourselves. We explored using quilt-like squares from all the workshop participant's art samples. I soon found myself with a really boring grid piece, unable to get free and "loosen up" as Melissa says collage does for her. I was exercising design muscles not used often enough.
I had brought some great old photos picked up at an Iowa auction years ago to share and work with. After my practice collage, I used a photo of a couple (circa midwest, late 1800's) as a starting point. I visualized the place this couple was from, a grassland inhabited with plains birds, wild winds and new beginnings. Added a little room for text. And voila. Satisfaction.
The other attendees shared their work and I loved the diversity in our pieces. Some of us had to puzzle through thinking differently in layers and textures. Others were born to this mixed medium, to stunning results. The basic elements of illustration, of balance and color and individual style certainly came into play. We all left with new tricks in our illustration bag, and a few Sweet reminders of a creative afternoon. What a great event!

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