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ART & SOUL: The pen and the wash

Dawn Baker and Commander Gander.
Author Dawn Baker and Commander Gander. - Contributed

New book to feature Commander Gander and Come From Away adventure

This morning broke with a frigid temperature of -10, the bright golden glow of a sun ineffective, if pretty, at drawing the frost from my car windows.

A kid with a super heavy backpack pleaded for a ride to school and though it wasn’t on the agenda for me to leave my wood-heated house before 8 a.m., I struggled into my boots and coat, ignored the coffee cravings and drove her there before sitting to contemplate my long conversation last week with artist and children’s author Dawn Baker of Gander.

Baker’s artistic career started 30 years ago, but her aptitude was always there. She finished her degree in 1994 and registered an art business. She offered art lessons, framing, and continued painting. 

“I did anything and everything that I could tie into it to make it a viable operation,” she said.

By far, painting the illustrations for her children’s books takes most of her time and she creates one book per year with Flanker Press.

The last illustration nearly finished, the book will be released in the spring. Recently she even received Twitter endorsements for the project from the writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein and producer Michael Rubinoff.

Her upcoming book is a very special project. Being from Gander, she was intimately involved with the 9-11 plane people, volunteered to help during that period of time and in fact a young woman from New York stayed with them during that time. She says she was affected by it in a profound way.

Baker attended the Gander presentation of Come From Away and loved it, and more recently went to New York City to see the musical on Broadway. On a lark, she took along the stuffed toy mascot, Commander Gander, and did a bit of a fun photo journey with him. She took photos of the plush toy on the plane, in the theater and at other landmarks throughout the city.

This inspired the idea for her next book, Commander Gander goes to Come from Away. Not one to be deterred by her own sense of how much of a longshot it would be to have this project approved, she was shocked to receive unanimous support for the project from the town of Gander, the musical’s official representatives, and her publisher Flanker Press. The last illustration nearly finished, the book will be released in the spring. Recently she even received Twitter endorsements for the project from the writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein and producer Michael Rubinoff.

“Commander Gander has the experience of the people in the audience when they realize who he is which is a parallel of the experience I had when I went, “ Baker said.

In the spirit of kindness that Come From Away highlights, part of the proceeds from this project will go to the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John’s.

Just like Baker’s painting method, my weekly chart has suggestions of where I should start, outlines as it were, but it leaves plenty of room for brushing on extra foliage, allowing me time to appreciate the sky as it fills in with colour, for the sea to wash around me at its leisure.

The illustrations for this book, as well as her previous projects, are done using watercolour method called pen and wash. She outlines in ink, then adds the paint. 

“It’s very painterly,” she said. “People are not contriving to reproduce a photograph.”

The pen method gives a bit more control but watercolour has that “little extra bit of unpredictability, that gives it some specialness.”

Then she adds my favourite quote of our conversation, when referring to her process.

 “The pen is as important as the wash,” she says.

Just like Baker’s painting method, my weekly chart has suggestions of where I should start, outlines as it were, but it leaves plenty of room for brushing on extra foliage, allowing me time to appreciate the sky as it fills in with colour, for the sea to wash around me at its leisure.

I still have to write in appointments and keep a production schedule but within that structure, there is always space for the unexpected, so I get the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful smudge of unanticipated songs.

And whenever possible, deliberately paint them into my day. 

A full interview with Dawn Baker will air on the Bridges Radio program here. 

Carolyn R. Parsons is an author who lives in central Newfoundland and Labrador. She can be reached at carolynrparsons@gmail.com

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