Category Archives: Art

Percolating As An Artist

Local artist, Sandra Waugh, with the book cover she designed for author Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino and Hay House Publishing.

Local artist, Sandra Waugh, with the book cover she designed for author Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino and Hay House Publishing.

As part of my job as a contributing writer for my local newspaper, I have the great fun of interviewing many talented, local people and highlighting their work. One of these people is artist Sandra Waugh of Limerick, Maine.

Like writers, artists often struggle to find paying gigs (hence the terms starving artist/starving writer) and usually supplement the creative work with more prosaic jobs like retail, dish-washing, and serving food in restaurants. Nothing wrong with it. It’s a noble tradition of sacrifice for the sake of art. In addition to the supplemental jobs, artists and writers often do well to find niche markets for their work, freelance jobs that bring in a little extra cash–and cachet!

A self-taught artist, Sandra has been perfecting her watercolor art over the years in many niche markets. For example, Waugh recently designed and illustrated the cover of a new self-help book put out by traditional publishing house, Hay House Publishing.

The book, PERCOLATE, was written by Maine author Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino, founder and CEO of the Best Ever You Network which includes workshops, a magazine, a radio program, and other networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, authors, and everyday people in all walks of life. PERCOLATE has a tag line of “Let Your Best Self Filter Through” and is a guide for creating positive change in a person’s life.

Waugh worked with Hamilton-Guarino previously on a children’s picture book that was self-published. When PERCOLATE was being written, Elizabeth asked Sandra if she’d be interested in creating artwork for and designing the cover of her new book. “She was very specific about what she wanted,” Waugh said. “She made many changes, and we kept fine-tuning the design until we got what she wanted.” The cover’s painting of a white coffee cup with colorful words steaming out of it over a brown background was done in watercolor paint. Inside the book, sketches of coffee cups and three little creatures–an aardvark, a platypus, and an armadillo–were done in graphite. Waugh also designed the layout for the book cover.

“I used to be a graphic designer and worked in pre-press work for ten years, so designing the cover was going back to my graphic arts roots,” said Waugh.

Not sure if Hay House would chose to use the design or would go in-house, Waugh was excited when the publishing company decided to pick up the cover and use her artwork. Hay House is a traditional publishing company, not a self-publishing enterprise, though it has a self-publishing line called Balboa Press. Hay House offers books on the subjects of self-help, inspirational, and “transformational books and products,” according to the company website. It publishes work by such well-known authors as Dr. Wayne Dyer, Dr. Christiane Northrup, and Jerry Hicks.

PERCOLATE is available in local bookstores and online.

Now that the PERCOLATE cover project is finished, Waugh says she is working on a new book illustration project for a children’s book by another local author.

Waugh also recently opened her own store on Etsy.com where she sells her fine art. “Etsy is an online artisan community where artists sell their products, everything from knitting to jewelry to pottery to fine art. The list goes on and on,” Waugh said. Her original watercolor paintings can be viewed on the site at www.etsy.com/shop/waughtercolors. She also paints people and pet portraits on commission. Her website is found at www.waughtercolors.com.

As always, I encourage you, my dear readers, to look around in your own towns and cities to find local artists, writers, and creators of all sorts of wild and wonderful things and support them with your good wishes and your dollars. Keep the cash circulating locally, build good-will connections within your community or neighborhood, and enjoy a Localista lifestyle that is anything but bland. Create an environment that is unique rather than cookie-cutter!

And thank you once again, dear readers, for stopping in to Localista.

(This post was published in another form in The Reporter newspaper. Support your local newspapers, too, with your advertising. Advertising pays for the articles you enjoy reading!)

A Comic Book, Apocalypse, and Dolly the Sheep

http://jesusisland.com/

An Interview with Escape From Jesus Island creator, Shawn French.

This is an extended version of an interview I had with French that originally appeared in The Reporter, a weekly newspaper out of Waterboro, Maine.

What would happen if someone cloned Jesus?

This is the question Shawn French–(local)Limerick, Maine writer, filmmaker, stand-up comedian, and comic-book author–asked himself twenty years ago in the parking lot of a movie theater. He had just seen a film that graphically illustrated the unintended and dangerous consequences of attempting to create life from ancient DNA. The year was 1993. The movie, of course, was Jurassic Park.

Now, two decades later, French has just published a horrifically creative answer to his question in the form of a graphic comic book entitled Escape From Jesus Island.

A 1987 graduate of South Portland High School, French spent a few years after high school working as a stand-up comedian and then traveling the country for a decade before moving back to Maine in 2000 with his wife, Sue, and stepchildren, Erica, Kim and Robert. He found creative outlets in a variety of genres–writing for the Windham Independent newspaper, writing film and video-gaming scripts, and working on and acting in a dozen independent films. In 2008, French wrote and directed his own movie, The Wrong House.

He was busy, but some ideas grab hold and just don’t let go. The Jesus clone premise had sunk its claws into French, and he began to seriously research both the subject of cloning and the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Starting out as a film script, the story eventually evolved comic book series which combined French’s story and the graphic artwork of illustrator, Mortimer Glum, the finesse of letterer, Peeter Parkker, and the expertise of editor, Shawn Greenleaf. Thanks to the team, plus a successful Kickstarter campaign, the first issue of Escape From Jesus Island, was published in December 2013.

This week, French agreed to answer some questions about the comic book, the creative process, and the team of people working on the Escape From Jesus Island franchise.

Q: Okay, walk me through this slowly. I’m looking at the Escape From Jesus Island website (http://jesusisland.com). What does ‘original full-color, digitally painted comic books series’ mean for those of us who know nothing about graphic novels/comics? Are these traditional comic books? Or are they graphic novels that are more like soft-cover books?

A: Size and shape are like a traditional, old-school comic book, but comics have come a long ways. Instead of the filmsy, newspaperish stock, we print on a heavy, glossy paper in full-color. To the touch, it feels more like a magazine. I’ll drop one off so you can see.

Illustrator Mortimer Glum digitally paints EFJI. He uses a variety of techniques, most of which I don’t understand at all. I love the end result, though. He built fully poseable 3D models of every major character, as well as a full, digital 3D model of Malsum Island, the setting for Act One (Issues 1-8). We can virtually ‘walk’ through the tunnels, anywhere on the island or even inside some of the hospital. Mortimer uses these models to achieve consistency panel to panel. Like a filmmaker, he can pan the camera to the spot he wants and grab a digital snapshot of a background image as a reference. Then he digitally paints on top of that using a Cintiq tablet. It’s amazing to watch. The guy is magic.

Q: Can you give a brief synopsis of the story? What is Escape From Jesus Island about?

A: EFJI is the story of an attempt to clone Jesus by the ReGen Corporation. Years of failed attempts leave behind scores of near-Jesus mutant freaks before they succeed in creating a set of twins, Jesus and his monstrous brother Yeshua. Christ and Antichrist. The Vatican gets word of Christ’s return and sends in an extraction team just as Yeshua is leading a mutant uprising and things get all kinds of crazy. And that’s just Act One, the first eight issues in a 40-issue series.

Q: And of course the question every writer is asked: Where did this idea come from?

A: The original spark of an idea hit just after watching the first Jurassic Park film in 1993. Just, as in, still in the movie theater parking lot. At the time, I was working as a standup comedian and was always on the hunt for comedy material. I wrote a bit that was essentially Jurassic Park, but with murderous packs of Jesus clones in the place of dinosaurs. A remote island testing facility where the Bodies of Christ get loose one stormy night and wreak havoc. The first script was basically a Monty Python sketch.

The story evolved in layers over the years. Because I couldn’t get this Jesus-cloning story idea out of my head, I did a bunch of cloning research and that’s when the story we see now really started to come into shape.

Dolly, the first sheep ever cloned, was attempt number 277. The first 276 were fatally mutated. The realization hit me that if scientists were ever to acquire Christ’s DNA and try to clone him, and you KNOW they would try, they would have to make hundreds of mutant saviors before creating one you could show to the press. I find that equal parts horrifying and hysterical. This
realization was how EFJI turned from a comedy into a horror story.

The next tectonic shift in the story came while spending a full year studying Jesus and Revelation before starting on the comic book scripts. I listened to sermons about the Apocalypse around the clock. I bombarded myself with them, from every possible denomination. It was during this period that I realized EFJI is a story about the Antichrist and the End Days. That the cloning experiment in EFJI results in twins, Jesus and the monstrous Yeshua. Christ and Antichrist emerging from the same womb.

4. I noticed from your bio information that you are also a filmmaker. How do the two interests mesh?

I first wrote Escape From Jesus Island as a film script and I gave serious, serious thought to shooting it as follow-up to The Wrong House, the horror movie I released in 2008. Ultimately, the story was just too big to do it justice on an independent budget. As a comic book, though, there are no cost restraints stopping us from making this as big and bad as it needs to be.

We intend to blur the lines as much as possible between comic book and live action. Many of the primary characters are modeled after actors I trust in Maine. This will allow us to do a Jesus Island character photo shoot with Biddeford photographer Jakk Blood, and a live-action trailer for the comics.

5. Did your background in film help you plot this story? And there are some film terms being used in the marketing aspect, right?

We think of this story as a film or super intense television series. I’m credited in the comic book as director and Mortimer as cinematographer, and we include a cast page. Morty has also done film work, including storyboards, so we both come at this with a cinematic eye. We aren’t using a lot of the super exaggerated angles traditionally seen in comics. The action is framed like we’re shooting it all on camera.

6. You were supposed to be interviewed on CNN’s New Day program, but the segment was canceled. How did you happen to get on CNN’s radar to begin with and why was the segment canceled?

That whole thing was really weird. They approached me out of the blue, wanting me to discuss the comic and backlash on their Faces Of Faith series. Then two weeks in a row, they bumped me on less than a day’s notice, and were kind of nasty about it the second time. The segment had been shifted from producer to producer a couple times and I’m guessing it finally landed on the desk of someone who found it offensive. I can’t figure out any other reason why they would approach me to be on their show and then angrily cancel just hours after confirming. Twice. The funny part is, the focus of the segment was going to be the challenges of distributing an independent comic in the face of backlash from offended people. Then I got backlashed right off the air.

7. The story shares many thematic elements with the Book of Revelation in the Bible. What would you say to someone who accused you of being sacrilegious or disrespectful of Christianity?

The one thing the offended people all seem to have in common is that they haven’t read our comics. They see the title and the Antichrist crucified on the cover and decide they know everything they need to know.

EFJI is essentially the Biblical story of Revelation, using cloning as the catalyst for the prophesied return of Christ and rise of the Antichrist. Many of the things that Biblical scholars say are symbolic, we interpret literally, such as the seven-headed Beast who rises from the sea. We named him Pariah and he is one of our main antagonists.

Oddly, the people who are offended by our comic are the ones who would be most able to catch all the subtle religious references. We have a whole lot of Christians and Catholics among our fans, though. Fortunately, most grownups have the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality and know that a comic book doesn’t pose a credible threat to their belief system.

I get some nasty emails from time to time and doors get randomly slammed in our faces (like with CNN), but it isn’t my responsibility to navigate around the emotional triggers of seven billion people. My job is to tell the most compelling story I can, so I focus on doing that.

To our critics, I would say, “Give me a chance to actually offend you before you get all hot and bothered. We haven’t even gotten to the offensive stuff yet. It’s a 40-issue series. Pace yourselves.”

8. Did you always want to be a writer and filmmaker?

Absolutely. Independent filmmaking really wasn’t a valid option when I was in my 20s. The technology just wasn’t there yet, so I had kind of let that longtime dream go and focus on writing. I’ve never stopped writing stories. I wouldn’t know how to stop. It’s how I process my thoughts. There are two epic stories that I’ve been working on for more than 20 years, building enormous story worlds with the knowledge that I would one day find an outlet to bring the stories to life. Escape From Jesus Island is the first of those stories.

The massive technology leaps in the past 20 years have completely changed independent filmmaking. Now, anyone with the drive and passion to make a film, can. So I of course pounced all over that. I’ve worked on nearly a dozen independent films (mostly playing monster roles) and finally got to write/direct my own movie, 2008’s The Wrong House.

9. The artwork in EFJI is arresting, to say the least! How did you and artist, Mortimer Glum, become collaborators on this project? (And is that his real name?)

Mortimer and I met during post-production on The Wrong House. He’s part of a Portland-based FX group called The Shoggoth Assembly, that handled the practical horror effects in our movie. Morty designed our posters and DVD cover art, which is how we met. We immediately hit it off and I eventually got the courage to pitch the EFJI comics to him. Fortunately, he was hugely into it and we’ve been full-speed ahead ever since.

10. Once you wrote the story and collaborated with Mr. Glum on the artwork, how did EFJI become a published book? Can you talk a little bit about how graphic novels are designed and produced?

Printing in full color is extremely expensive, and we are starving artists, so we started with a Kickstarter campaign, where fans could pledge their financial support for the series in exchange for various perks… signed copies of issues, custom artwork, or even a chance to appear as a character in the series. More than forty of our fans will appear in EFJI in the first eight issues alone.

200 backers contributed nearly $16,000 on Kickstarter to help us get up and running. This allows us to print the first four issues.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1254797765/escape-from-jesus-island-comic-book-series

The actual production of a comic book was all new territory for our team and we made a lot of rookie mistakes as we were getting our workflow figured out. Editor Shawn Greenleaf was a life saver during this stretch. He handled all the technical details with the printers (Transcontinental in Canada)… and there are a LOT of little things that have to be exactly right or the final product will suffer.

The workflow we have settled into now is basically this…

* I write the script (generally 3-4 issues ahead)

* Mortimer breaks it down into panels on the page and sends me rough versions

* I use those roughs to rewrite the script to perfectly fit the images

* Letterer Peeter Parkker takes the new script and puts the words on the page

* Editor Shawn Greenleaf (based in Seattle) picks apart the artwork, text and anything else he can find a flaw in

* We grumble at him, then fix the stuff he suggests

* We all pick through the pages for any last changes

11. Where do you see this project going?

This is more than a comic book series to us. We’re treating this as a franchise from Day One and striking out in as many directions as possible. Portland sculptor Nicolas Genovese has already created our first two gaming miniatures and is working on a full-size action figure; Portland-based horror FX group The Shoggoth Assembly will be creating some EFJI gory goodies, including character masks; Event Screen Printers in South Portland is working on T-shirts; we have an EFJI board game in the works; and we’re in talks that could lead to EFJI as a full radio drama.

Our crew know a whole lot of amazingly talented people and we have an All Hands On Deck approach to making this series everything it can be.

12. Will you have a booth at any comic book conventions? How has the reception been so far with readers/fans?

We’ll be hitting a lot of conventions in the Northeast this first year and hopefully can expand a bit further in 2015. We first premiered our trailer at Coast City Comicon (South Portland) in 2012 and Mortimer Glum held an art workshop again there in 2013.

Reception from fans and critics has been amazing so far. Clive Barker, a hero of everyone on the Jesus Island team, even checked it out and offered us an official endorsement. http://www.facebook.com/officialclivebarker/posts/422151551226901

It has been a crazy rollercoaster ride already and we’re just getting started.

13. Is there anything else our readers should know about you or EFJI? Where can readers buy the book?

This map shows all the stores currently carrying us and our network is increasing all the time: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=ze8U5uNxcdYA.kSUrLlBpTwO8

Current options in Maine are: Coast City Comics (Portland), The Complex (Scarborough), Game Box (Topsham) and Top Shelf Comics (Bangor)

We’re also available on Amazon (www.amazon.com/Escape-Jesus-Island-Shawn-French/dp/0991186419).

And we sell subscriptions and signed artwork at our online store: http://escapefromjesusisland.bigcartel.com

Localista At Large: Shopping, shopping, and more shopping!

At San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art

Dear Reader:

I have now spent many hours trolling through gift shops and wandering in that aimless touristy way that is at once relaxing and exhausting in equal measure. The Teen and I managed the public transportation options yesterday, starting out with the MTS express bus, the 150, from just across the street in La Jolla down to Old Town. There, we procured a couple of Compass passes from a vending machine at the trolley station–three-day passes that would allow us unlimited bus and trolley rides until Wednesday.

Picture the trolley/bus station at Old Town. Two sets of tracks divided by concrete walkways and covered benches. A few bus lanes dotted with more benches with signage listing the various routes going north and south. An underground passageway between the bus and trolley lines–the walls of said passageway artfully decorated with red roof tiles and large stones in wavy shapes.

The trolley are like above-ground subway trains– bright, shiny red on the outside and very clean inside. Finding the right trolley and getting Downtown was no problem yesterday. Soon we were deposited a block or so from our destination, Seaport Village, a recreated seaport development of small shops and restaurants along the waterfront, not far from the giant ship museums and the Fish Market Restaurant.

We ended our day at the Kansas City BBQ where the bar scene from TOP GUN was filmed. This very casual rib joint was laid-back with checkered plastic tablecloths, styrofoam cups for our sodas, and really hot and salty fries. We didn’t order any ribs, but the smell was spicy and sweet wafting from the table behind us. In the bar area, people sat in close quarters at the worn bar over which hung Navy caps–I’m assuming they were donated by military customers over the years. Signed photos on the wall included Richard Dean Anderson and Brooke Shields and a bunch of athletes I didn’t bother to look at. Sorry sports fans.

Today, we intended to go to Balboa Park for some art & culture, but the thought of navigating the MTS again just made me feel tired before we even started. We opted for another foray into La Jolla Village where we did spend a good hour and a half at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art before shopping, refueling at the Brick & Bell Cafe, more shopping, and meeting Hubby down at the cove where the sea lions were diving and flapping and honking beneath a cloudy afternoon sky.

Dinner at the hotel “social hour” ended our day as we couldn’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm for dinner out. Early to bed. Sea World, hopefully, tomorrow.

So, here are the highlights from our last couple of days.

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Our hotel suite kitchen where I’ve composed some good, fresh salads as well as pasta and even garlic bread. Avocado with everything!

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village: a cute shopping area, waterfront district.

Kites over the waterfront

Kites over the waterfront

Watching the kites flying over the waterfront park at Seaport Village was relaxing…and chilly!

Wax Candle Artist

Wax Candle Artist

Balls of wax are dipped into colored wax and become beautiful, one-of-a-kind works of art. We had fun testing out many of the wax balls beneath the handy spotlights before choosing a few to bring home. The artist was very friendly and agreed to pose for us after explaining her process. Can you see the colored wax buckets beside her?

Top Gun Hats

Top Gun Hats

Here are the hats hanging over the bar at Kansas City BBQ. Remember Tom Cruise singing “She’s lost that loving feeling?” Here’s where it happened.

Art meets sci-fi

Art meets sci-fi

At the Museum of Contemporary Art, the main exhibit featured art inspired by science fiction. This one was based on a mythological sci-fi story about slaves dumped overboard in the Great Lakes who created a lost world beneath the water. Note the eyeballs beneath the waves. Cool, I say. Sketchy, says the Teen.

Flower People

Flower People

Another artist created a world where people were able to genetically combine with plants. These are the flower people of her imagination.

Echoes Too

Echoes Too

Walking down the street with no particular destination in mind, imagine my delight when I spotted–tadaa–a resale clothing store in ritzy La Jolla Village! Echoes Too Resale Shop carried some pretty impressive name brands. I especially liked a slinky black jersey Calvin Klein cocktail dress and a nice white cotton shirt. However, I didn’t feel like trying on clothes. It was enough to have found the shop and snap a photo, I guess, for this Localista.

IMG_cafe

The Teen and I spotted the Brick & Bell Cafe from across the street and zipped right over. It sits on a quiet back street across from a shoe repair shop and dry cleaners…and a few locals were hanging out at the outside cafe tables and reading and chatting and greeting each other. We split a chocolate chip scone and drank cappucinos. It felt like Europe to me, somehow. Must’ve been a certain vibe. That and all the languages we heard on the street. La Jolla draws people from all over the world. I’ve heard snippets of French and strands of Italian, watched people of all shapes and sizes and ages and colors brushing past each other in and out of shops and restaurants. There is nothing like getting out of small-town rural Maine and into a large, metropolitan city to wake up one’s interest in culture and cultures!

Localista At Large: California Dreamin’

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

Dear Reader:

The Teen and I joined Hubby on the West Coast this week, and are immersing ourselves in the laid-back California lifestyle as much as possible, staying in the seaside community of La Jolla which is home to the University of California San Diego, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and the Salk Institute. La Jolla also offers a quaint art & shopping village, sea lion watching, impressive sandy cliffs leading down to sheltered beaches, great restaurants (avocado is in just about everything–I’m in dining heaven!), and perfect, and I mean that literally, weather. Every day has been in the low 70’s, with morning fog clearing to blue sky and bright sunshine.

Mormon Temple

Mormon Temple

The Mormon Temple simply glows and looks more like a castle than a church. Wikepedia tells me that the exterior is made of marble chips in stucco which is why it shines so ethereally against the sky. The Teen and I saw it from the parking lot of a shopping center where we had gone to stock up on some groceries for the week.

Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

The next day, we hopped on the hotel shuttle to La Jolla Cove where we stood watching the sea lions basking on the rocks. There was ample opportunity for people-watching, too. Snorkeling, diving, and swimming are all favorite pastimes here. We walked the pathway along the ocean and Scripps park, watching the waves and enjoying the breeze. Heading up Jenner Street, we left the ocean and headed into the village for some shopping and lunch.

Arugula Salad

Arugula Salad

I hate to admit this, but I can’t remember the name of the restaurant–it was on Girard Avenue, not far from Cody’s, and above a Thai place. My credit card says “Stella,” but I can’t find it on Google.com. Anyway, we had an amazing arugula salad with hearts of palm, avocado (naturally), and shaved parmigiano. Yum! Later, we stopped into a juice bar for some healthy and hydrating smoothies.

The Teen found a pair of great crocheted shorts at a clothing store. The clerk was a woman who grew up in New York City and moved out here awhile ago. Her family moved out with her, and she says she’d never want to move back east. The Teen also mentioned that everyone seems really happy here. Is it because of the climate or, as I suspect, because we are in La Jolla–a very well-to-do community in San Diego?

You know, when you don’t have to worry about where your mortgage payment is coming from and you don’t have to chose between medications or electricity for the month, you might experience a bit less stress. A for-sale sign on a condo in La Jolla Village listed the price as $800,000! Okay, having money might not make you HAPPIER, per se, but it certainly takes the edge off, doesn’t it?

Our first evening in La Jolla, Hubby drove us over to Torrey Pines where we climbed down the stairs built into steep sand cliffs, ended up on the sheltered beach, and did a little jogging, a little sprinting, a little walking…and I practiced tree pose while looking out at the Pacific. I saw my first nudist–unfortunately. Not a fan of public nudity. Also saw people practicing paragliding up on the cliffs at the Torrey Pines Gliderport while a guy played guitar, providing a soundtrack for the graceful, floating gliders.

palm trees galore

palm trees galore

Walking everywhere provides plenty of time for looking at the different types of palm trees, cacti, and flowers that are so different here in this dry climate.

Statue outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.

outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.

San Diego has alot to offer if you are into art and history. This big guy has a mechanical arm raising and lowering a hammer outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla. I hope to talk the Teen into checking out the museum…maybe later today!

Outside Kate Spade

Outside Kate Spade

For you fashionistas out there, here is a shot of the Teen in front of Kate Spade. I’m sure we’ll be shopping some more–I’m hoping to find some consignment shops while I’m out here that I can share with you. That pretty much covers days 1 & 2 of our California Dreamin’ adventure. We spent Day 3 at the San Diego Zoo. Post coming soon!

Pelicans at the cove---they have their own gliders attached!

Pelicans at the cove—they have their own gliders attached!

Designing Woman

Eliza with bag and screen printing equipment

Eliza with bag and screen printing equipment

Studio = Art

Walk into Eliza Jane Curtis’s studio on the second floor of her Limington Village farmhouse, and you are immediately struck by two impressions: color and order.

Along one long, blue wall of the studio, shelves of paints, papers, and other artists supplies pop with bright colors neatly arranged and easily accessible. In front of a light-filled window, a silk-screen table is popped open to reveal a orderly floral pattern on a background of turquoise. Near the back wall, a rack of bright tee-shirts and scarves silk-screened with Curtis’s graphic motifs draws the visitor’s eye.

This is the home-base of Curtis’s business, Morris & Essex, which offers handmade stationery, letterpress cards and invitations, canvas bags, wallets, shirts, and scarves. Her products are sold in shops in Buenos Aires, Manhattan, Canada, and Australia as well as right here in her home state of Maine at places like the Portland Museum of Art, the Merchant Co., and Ferdinand in Portland and Archipelago at the Island Institute in Rockland.

The dual qualities of color and order in the studio are reflected in the designer’s art whose motifs lean toward the botanical, the natural, the vintage, and the geometric. “I’m inspired by nature and the floral and botanical,” said Curtis, sipping herbal tea at her farmhouse table. “I like traditional folk art designs.” A fan of early 20th-century packaging and ephemera, Curtis also draws on vintage design elements to inspire new ideas for her art. Her family, she said, tends to collect things of this sort, though, “nobody collected anything on purpose in my family,” she said, smiling. “I’ll see something in an attic or basement and think ‘this would be good’ and they’ll let me take it.”

Lino Block Stationery

Lino Block Stationery

Gorham to Gotham

Curtis grew up in Gorham where her parents renovated an old house and she and her two sisters attended the public schools. Attending Gorham High School, she took art classes and enjoyed them, but she wasn’t certain art was something she would pursue professionally. “I wasn’t totally aware what you could do with art,” she said. She believes that in high school you don’t necessarily need to know what you are going to do for a career. “I had no idea what I wanted to do. I worked that out later.”

Taking a few college classes after high school, Curtis realized that academia was not her cup of tea. “I was supposed to be reading classics, Ovid, that sort of thing. It was harder to focus and kind of boring, but it turned out that art classes were one area I could focus. Reading and writing are great, but not nearly as engaging as art.”

Finding a strong passion for hands-on work and enjoying the satisfaction of having finished an actual, physical product by the end of the day, Curtis eventually enrolled in the Parsons The New School For Design in New York City. Here she studied design and also graduated with a liberal arts degree in 2001. She then took an internship with a web design company that led to full-time work.

She enjoyed working on kids designs so much, she eventually landed a job working for Osh-Kosh B’gosh in New York doing children’s clothes, “That was really fun,” Curtis said, remembering those early days in the city. “There were few places in So-Ho, so we’d rent a whole house in Brooklyn and bike across the bridge to Manhattan to work every day. It was great.”

During her 11 years in New York, Curtis launched her own business creating tee-shirt prints on the side, working on her prints on nights and weekends and eventually opening a “shop” on Etsy.com. That is when she named her fledgling business Morris & Essex.

“People always ask me who Morris & Essex are,” she laughed. “I was driving on the New Jersey Transit and saw the Morris & Essex train line in New Jersey. I was making tags for my pieces and needed a name. I liked the image that popped into my head of two cranky old men.”

Eliza's Studio

Eliza’s Studio


Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina

Curtis then met her husband, Michael Topper, and he was offered a job in Argentina. In 2006, the couple moved to Buenos Aires, studying the language and learning to speak fluent Spanish while they were there. While in Argentina, Curtis continued to do design work for freelance clients in New York, but the experience of living in Buenos Aires was exciting for the artist.

“While New York is very art-centered, it tends to be more institutional,” Curtis explained. “In Buenos Aires there seems to be more empty space for productions, for artists. It is less institutionalized, with more creative freedom in general.” Curtis enjoyed the community of artists, the galleries that popped-up all the time, the spontaneity and the leeway that is given for creative endeavors, starting up things on a small budget and not worrying so much about the financial success of a project.

“People just can’t earn as much money there,” mused Curtis. “So maybe they become more inventive, they make do. It’s more than just making money.”

This quality of making-do is an area she finds similarity between Argentina and Maine, noting that here in Maine people often have more than one job, doing extra on the weekends or a side-business like cutting hair in the back room of their house.

As much as they enjoyed the vibe of Argentina, after four years, Topper and Curtis began missing their families and wanting to put down more permanent roots. They told their families of their intention to move to Maine, thinking maybe they would live in an apartment in Portland for a year while searching for an old farmhouse to fix up. Little did they expect to commit to a place in Limington even before leaving South America.

Clothing Options

Clothing Options


Back Home to Maine

“Mike kept looking at old house listings while we were still in Argentina, asking me ‘where is this place? where is that town?’ and I’d tell him where the were relative to Gorham.” One day the couple saw a listing for a farmhouse in Limington, and the location was perfect, halfway between Gorham and the family cabin in New Hampshire. They kept watching the listing as the price went lower and lower, and eventually they made an offer, moving back to Maine in 2010.

The house is in the historic Limington Village, and it is a work in progress for the couple. “We are gutting every room down to the studs.” Despite the heavy, time-consuming labor involved in renovating an old home, Topper and Curtis are enjoying putting down those roots they longed for. They have joined a local group committed encouraging to local, sustainable living practices, and have found the people in the area to be very welcoming.

“Another thing about moving back to Maine is that living in other places I always felt like a newcomer, or worse, a gentrifier. After being a foreigner for 18 years, there is an appeal to coming home and belonging,” Curtis explained. “I feel more free to get involved and to try and make changes and stay in one place.”

The relatively short distance to Portland and the art scene there is also a plus. Curtis has been able to connect with other artists at craft fairs and at the Merchant Co. in Portland, a retail emporium with over 100 vendors on block from the Portland Museum of Art. She has collaborated with fabric bag and accessory designer, Lillianka, and has created wholesale products for the Close Buy Catalog, a fundraising program for schools that sell Maine products rather than stuff made outside the country. Vendors must apply and be chosen to be in the Close Buy Catalog, and Curtis’s silk-screened canvas bags were featured in last year’s catalog.

Whether creating custom linocut (similar to woodcuts) wedding invitations or putting together a new collection of printed tees, Curtis strives to be as organic, ethical, and local-minded as possible. “I use organic cotton canvas for my tote bags, organic cotton for tee-shirts, non-toxic water-based printing inks, and in my general studio operations I try to reuse and recycle and minimize my environmental impact as much as possible, as well as using locally-available resources whenever I can,” she says.

Curtis’s designs and products can be found on the Morris & Essex website at http://www.morrisessex.com and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Morris.Essex. You can also read Eliza’s blog at http://blog.elizajanecurtis.com

A Winter Solstice Wish

Peace, Love, Joy

Dear Reader:

On this day of Solstice, when we celebrate light returning to our world, I send out a wish. I wish for a societal shift toward rejecting violence and embracing, instead, kindness and respect and love.

I started here in my house by deciding NOT to finish watching a TV series. The other night Hubby and I sat mute as a fictional FBI agent pulled out a gun, took a prisoner out of his SUV, pushed him up against the vehicle, and shot him in the neck and body five or six times. The prisoner was unarmed and cooperative. Blood splattered, and I asked myself, Why would I want to watch this? How does this enhance my life? What message is this sending to kids who are watching it?

I don’t care if it is “make believe” or “just a story.” Stories are a wrapping in which we package our values and give them, like a gift, to the world. Perhaps it is time we think about those values and begin to question whether or not our music, games, movies, television, books, and art represent the values our higher selves hold dear.

I challenge each of you to think about your values as we enjoy the holiday season. What is most important to you? Family, spirituality, education, earnings, possessions, art, beauty, environment, health, love? What values lift you up? What values lift up an entire community?

When it is time to chose a movie, a music album, a video game, an activity, ask yourself which of your choices best reinforces your values. Reject the ones that do not. Embrace those that do. In this way we can signal our values to our entertainers, to our creatives, and most important, to our children.

In the coming year, I will strive to signal that I do not value violence. I do not think it is heroic or admirable or even brave, only justifiable for self-protection as a last resort.

Pre-emptive violence? Nuh-uh. Not anymore. It is time for a new way of thinking.

I believe it is time for our society to have this conversation about values, starting with an internal dialogue and expanding outward to family, community, state, country, and the world. What do you think?

Shopping Local for the Holidays

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Dear Reader:

How are you doing on your holiday shopping so far? I’ve been taking advantage of lucky opportunities that pop up–like yesterday’s trip to Portland for a Jim Brickman performance at the Portland Museum of Art.

Heading toward the museum for the performance, I noticed a Reny’s department store across from the parking garage. Hello! I don’t get into Portland that often, so the chance to pop into one of the branches of a Maine-owned department store was like an early Christmas present to myself.

Reny's Department Store Logo

Reny’s Department Store Logo

I’m fairly pleased with my local shopping progress this holiday season. I’ve bought books by Maine authors at public readings, handcrafted jewelry from the funkiest little shop--Maine Jewelry and Art--in Bangor on Plaid Friday (local answer to the mall’s Black Friday horror story), c.d.’s directly from musicians at performances (ahem, did you catch that Jim Brickman reference up there?), makeup from a local Avon rep, clothes from that Reny’s excursion yesterday, and a few things at Goodwill.

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

I’ve also ordered Christmas cards from my good friend and fine artist, Sandra Waugh, who lives right here in my town. That is her “waughtercolor” at the top of this page, such a cute, little red boat skillfully rendered, floating between sea and sky. This and other select paintings are for sale right now, but Sandra also creates beautiful watercolor portraits of loved ones, children, and pets from photographs you mail to her, like this one of the fly fisherman.

I am in awe of that kind of talent! Please visit her website at http://www.waughtercolors.com/ and/or private message her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/messages/waughtercolors

With the shopping well-underway, I guess it is time to start looking toward decorating the tree and holiday recipes. Food shopping for holiday meals can be a bit challenging (I need an egg source!), and I will write about that in another post as we get closer to Christmas. In the meantime…

I challenge you to buy at least ONE item this year from a local merchant or small-business owner, knowing that when you do so, much more of that money gets sent back into the local economy than if you spent the same $$’s at a mega-corporation. Want more reasons? Visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website for the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses.

Happy Holiday Shopping, everyone!