October 28, 2012

Portland illustrator Scott Nash has been busy around town

Nash has led the effort to reface the clock tower at Monument Square with MECA student artwork, published a new book and organized a show at the library.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Scott Nash's childhood bedroom looked out over a canopy of trees. His room was on the second floor, but the land was sloped in such a way that it felt like he hovered over the world.

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Scott Nash in his Portland office and, below, Captain Blue Jay, the star of his new book

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Nash and his students have made clever use of the non-functioning clock tower in Portland’s Monument Square.

Images courtesy of the artist

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Like a bird.

It was there that he learned to let his imagination run wild.

With his Scribner Classics in hand, Nash pored over the prose of Robert Louis Stevenson and anticipated the illustrations of N.C. Wyeth. With each turn of the page, he fingered the ridged type underneath his skin like Braille and delighted in the reveal of each new illustration.

When Nash began writing his latest book, "The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate," he wrote it with his 10-year-old self in mind. Make no mistake; he coveted Stevenson's "Treasure Island" like a rare jewel. But "Blue Jay" was the book Nash wanted to read when he was a boy growing up on Cape Cod.

"I've had the idea of the blue jay as a pirate for long time, since I was a kid," said Nash, who lives on Peaks Island and chairs the illustration department at Maine College of Art. "To me, Blue Jay sounds like a pirate's name. So I have carried this idea around for a long time."

In this yarn, the pirate crew is made up of Gabriel the goose, Crookie the crow and a cast of comrades of chuck-will's-widows, juncos and thrashers. Their leader is Captain Blue Jay, and their boat is the Grosbeak. They sail not the open sea, but patrol the dangerous skies, vanquishing merchant ships while fighting evil fisher cats and weasels.

The book is full of imagination, wonder and adventure -- much like Nash himself. It's doing well. Candlewick Press, one of the country's premier children's book publishers, released the book in late September. A second printing followed within 10 days, attesting to its demand.

Nash called the response "heartwarming. It took a number of years to get to this point. The original manuscript was three times the length. The editors at Candlewick had the good sense to talk me into cutting it down. I have enough material for a second and third book."

The final edit checks in at 356 pages, and includes dozens of nifty pen-and-ink illustrations, charts and maps, much like the Stevenson adventure books that Nash memorized growing up.

For Nash, the trick of balancing words and illustrations comes down to anticipation and reward. The illustrations complement the writing, but do not drive it. He hopes readers leaf ahead every three or four pages for a peek at the next illustration, or refer back to the map and ship's diagram at the front of the book.

"I don't want to spoil the story by having too many illustrations," he said. "I want the text to stand on its own."

"The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate" is written with children in mind, but is very much a book with adult themes that touch on Native American culture, colonialism and metallurgy, among other topics. It's populated by what Nash calls "brilliantly unpredictable" characters who are misunderstood by society -- and to whom he easily relates.

"I've always had an affinity for the Indians instead of the cowboys," he said, a twinkle lighting his eye. He praised Candlewick for taking on a "rogue like me."

STILL A KID AT HEART

Aside from this book, evidence of Nash's accomplishments are all over.

He is a writer, illustrator and designer, and spent many years creating logos and brand identity for Comedy Central, the Cartoon Network and Nick at Nite. He's illustrated more than 40 children's books, designed toys, and invented or re-imagined everything from TV programs to college curricula.

(Continued on page 2)

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