SCARBOROUGH — He considers himself nothing more than a scribbler, but Michael David Brown’s scribbling sustained a long career in illustration and has inspired his creative spark even longer.

“I just do it,” he said. “The cavemen did it. I do it. It’s what I have always done.”

Now 82, the Scarborough resident spent his working life contributing illustrations to the New York Times and Washington Post, designing book and magazine covers, and posters for movies and plays. Lately, he has left his mark on a drop-in sketching group at the Scarborough Public Library. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the library, Brown and three other members of the Library Sketchers will show and sell drawings, prints, posters, cards, handmade books and other creations as part of Art on the Lawn.

Illustrator Michael David Brown has adapted his art to the times, and now sketches on an iPad. Courtesy of Scarborough Public Library

The group began about three years ago at the suggestion of Brown’s wife, Carol, an active library patron. She had observed monthly activity groups and wondered if Brown could share his expertise in illustration. “I was becoming reclusive to some extent, and my wife thought it would be a good idea if I started a sketching group as a way to get me out,” he said. “It was just meant to be an innocent little grouping. We had no idea how it would progress.”

The Library Sketchers met monthly before the pandemic interrupted their gatherings in March 2020, often drawing a dozen or more artists who filled the library’s community room to near capacity. A few of them have kept the group active by email, exchanging art and ideas, during the pandemic. On Sept. 10, they will resume their in-person library gathering, meeting from 10 a.m. to noon the second Friday of the month.

A cover of the FDA Consumer magazine featuring Michael David Brown’s art. Photo courtesy of Michael David Brown

Pat Scammon said Brown has become an art mentor. She joined the group soon after losing a mentor who had helped coach Scammon’s late-life art career. She came to the group uncertain what to expect, and Brown welcomed her by immediately commenting on her first doodle and encouraging her.

“He said, ‘You belong here.’ He was very supportive, the way he said, ‘You belong here,‘” she said. “I was looking for an outlet for this work, which is very private. I had never shown it to anybody. I started coming and getting a little bit bolder with his support and encouragement.”

John Girard had a similar experience. A cartoonist, he joined unsure what to expect but seeking community and an exchange of ideas. “What became immediately clear was Michael’s art was amazing, and with his career as a professional illustrator, there was a lot to learn from him. He brought so much depth of experience, and he also brought a gentleness and kindness that was also needed and welcome.”

Brown grew up in the West – in California, Wyoming and Colorado. He joined the Air Force and became an illustrator, sketching military operations. After a stint at Colorado State College, he moved east, where his career flourished in the commercial and editorial art world of New York and Washington, covering events like the Vietnam War protests and Watergate. He retired to Maine about 25 years ago, operating the Red Door Gallery in Rockport before he and Carol moved south to Scarborough.

Michael David Brown made about 120 sketches of Portland a decade ago, like this one of Longfellow Square. He will show some of them on Saturday in Scarborough. Courtesy of Scarborough Public Library

Brown began sketching Portland about a decade ago. He draws the architecture – downtown storefronts and residential homes – in quick sketches that capture the energy and activity of the city with sharp, jagged lines and with enough precision to identify his subjects without dwelling on perfection.

He is less mobile these days, and draws on an iPad that his son gave him. He draws every day and welcomes new technology and all new ideas. “Remember, I have been at this stuff a long time. I was an illustrator in New York. You adapt quickly or you perish,” he said.

A sketch is meant to be a quickly drawn image, something rendered freely and with the flourish of the moment. It’s often a drawing executed on paper in ink or pencil, but can also be a drawn with a digital pen, paint or assembled with mixed media. Artist Debra Laplante made a portrait by collaging pieces of paper. Working remotely during the pandemic, she and Brown exchanged art back and forth by email, adding, refining and evolving the original piece to the point that Laplante ended up with a 50-print series. “He is full of ideas and just very supportive,” Laplante said.

Saturday’s sale is a chance to spotlight the talents of local residents, said Lucy Jackson Norvell, coordinator of programming and communications for the library.

“The opportunity to sketch with Michael and to learn from him has made this a popular program, and we hope to grow it and include many for sketchers in the future,” she said. “He’s a great teacher and full of enthusiasm.”


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