An Interview with Bucks County Artist Bonnie Porter
“As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight.” James McNeil Whistler
All photographs are copyrighted by Bonnie Porter.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist? Were you always drawing when you were young or was it something that came later? Did it begin as a hobby or have you always wanted a career in art?
I can't remember a time when I wasn't drawing or painting. As soon as I could hold a pencil, I was always sketching something. My grandmother enjoyed oil painting as a hobby, so when I was young, she would bring me art supplies and together we would spend a lot of time drawing and painting. Later, in middle school and high school, I started taking art lessons with a couple of local artists from my hometown, which was extremely helpful. I always knew that I wanted some type of career in art. For a little while in elementary school I was interested in becoming an archaeologist or paleontologist. I was always digging holes in my parents' backyard trying to discover something. But I always came back to fine art. So by middle school, I knew that it was a definite career path for me.
You graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1991 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a Graphic Design concentration. Tell us about your experience there.
I loved my experience at The College of New Jersey! I was a very quiet and shy kid, so the campus was the perfect size for me - not too big or overwhelming. I paid for college myself so the price was right and it was just the right distance from home - not too close or too far. I felt that the art program was very well-balanced between fine art, graphic design, and photography. All three areas are important in whichever direction an art student decides to pursue. All of the professors were extremely knowledgeable and inspiring.
Is a college degree a must or can one break into the business through talent alone?
I'm sure that some people can succeed through raw talent alone, but I think it is important to gain knowledge through several different professors. They all have great tips and experiences to share, and of course there is that saying, "You don't know what you don't know." I certainly benefitted from the professors at TCNJ and never regretted the choice to get a college degree. Even when I was working two retail jobs every summer averaging 60 hours per week and part time during the school year to save up for tuition, I knew it would be worth it in the long run.
You have designed for many companies such as Wedgwood, Lenox, Spode, Royal Doulton, Disney, and the White House. What are the challenges and rewards of working for such well-known companies?
All of those companies have such beautiful product lines and, therefore, high standards, and I loved being a part of creating their seasonal items. It was a little challenging to constantly switch gears and adapt my style to fit the look and identity of each brand, but I also loved that variety. It was also fun to go into the china department at Macy's and not only see a final product that started out as just a sketch on my desk, but also to know all of the people involved in making it come to life: the person who sculpted the model and made the mold, the glazer, the person who hand-painted the gold banding, the person who attached the tassels on the ornaments, the person who created the package design. So many people were involved in each piece. It was a great opportunity to work with all of these people and design for so many different companies with different styles. This was all done through a porcelain manufacturing plant, Cridge Incorporated, in Fallsington, PA. Unfortunately, due to the recession and manufacturing going overseas, Cridge had to close its doors in 2006.
Lenox Travel Luggage Ornament (left), personalized in 24 k gold with name, destination, and year of trip.
Lenox Personalized Our Cruise Ornament (right)
New Angels of the World Ornaments - On the left is Shannon of Ireland, on the right is Sofia of Italy
Do you have an all-time favorite design or painting that you could share with us?
My favorite painting to work on was "Market Day" which is an oil painting created after attending Market Day in Newtown, PA. Market Day is sponsored each year by The Newtown Historic Association and, in addition to re-enactments, food, artists, and vendors, they also have hayrides. The team of horses pulling the wagon was beautiful. I have always enjoyed painting horses, so I just had to paint the hay wagon team.
Which work most speaks to you personally - painting, designing for stamp collectors, or the fine china industry?
I would have to say all of the above. No matter what an artist or designer is creating; they put a part of themselves into it. I really love all of the creative outlets that I've been involved in. I love the hands-on feel of painting and trying to capture a moment on canvas. I enjoy history, so I love doing the research on the many subjects featured on new postage stamps, and then trying to tell the story in a visually appealing illustration for the first day cover cachets. And for the fine china industry, I really enjoyed being a part of creating products that are aesthetically pleasing and that are valued by the consumer in their own home.
What are the differences between the various forms of art that you create? Is it easy to transition from designing for fine china to, say, stamp illustration, or does each medium require a different set of skills and challenges?
They actually have quite a bit in common. All start with some research, brainstorming, and rough sketches. They all use traditional layout skills to come up with a visually appealing design. The difference is just how you get to the finished product. Product design will include a little computer-aided design using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and then eventually someone else in a factory finished the product. The FDC illustrations incorporate pen and ink, watercolor, and a little typography. I really don't mind transitioning from one to the other. It is nice to switch things up from time to time. It keeps life interesting.
Photographers usually have cameras and equipment that they prefer over others. Do you have favorite brands of art supplies/canvases, etc.?
Overall, Grumbacher puts out great quality fine art products across the board. And for framing a finished piece, Countryside Gallery and Framing on State Street in Newtown is an excellent choice for quality framing. The owners, Richard Fekete and Michael Hammer, are so nice and there is always wonderful and inspiring art by local artists on display there. It is a very community-oriented shop.
You currently create First Day Cover illustrations for the stamp collecting industry. What is a First Day Cover?
It is funny because I had never heard of First Day Covers before accepting this job with Collins Associates and I was amazed to learn of the enormous culture of collectors who are so passionate about this hobby. I'm going to give the explanation as described by the American First Day Cover Society. A First Day Cover (FDC) is an envelope or card bearing a stamp which is cancelled on the first day the stamp is initially placed on sale by the postal authorities. On the first day of issue, the FDCs are usually released in one city. The city location is usually appropriate to the subject of the stamp and will be the only place where the "First Day of Issue" postmark is used. For example, the commemorative Ronald Reagan FDCs were issued in Simi Valley, California. The specific date selected for release of the new stamp may also be significant. For example, the Jamestown Settlement stamps were released on the 400th anniversary of The Jamestown Settlement. (Interesting note: the Jamestown stamp is a triangle, which is the shape of the fort raised by the Jamestown settlers.)
The stamped and cancelled envelope is then decorated with a "cachet," pronounced ka-shay, which tells us a little more about the story behind the stamp.
My job is to create the cachet illustrations for the envelopes; specifically the FDC envelopes for Collins First Day Covers. Fred Collins has been producing FDCs for collectors since 1978 and has a great reputation in the industry. So Collins is the brand name which appears on the FDCs and, if you look closely, you will find the initials of the artist within the illustration.
Individuals collect and trade FDCs as a fun hobby, but also in hopes that they will increase in value over time as many of them have.
Your First Day Cover designs are gorgeous and have won many awards. My son would love the Star Wars FDCs. What are some of your favorites and the inspiration behind them?
The Star Wars series was a blast to work on since I was a huge Star Wars fan as a kid. My parents still have a very embarrassing photo of me dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween, wielding a lightsaber. It still shows up on their refrigerator to torment me from time to time.
Other favorite First Day Cover illustrations are usually the ones that feature wildlife, clipper ships, or interesting historical figures or events. I really enjoyed working on a scene illustrating The Lafayette Escadrille from WWI. The Lafayette Escadrille was a group of young Americans who signed up to help the French military and became the first squadron of US fighter pilots. Many people may be familiar with this group from the movie "Fly Boys."
But my hands-down, all-time favorite is our recent Harry Potter series. That was probably the most fun series to work on as there are so many amusing little details to add to each illustration and so many interesting characters to include. The series of twenty FDC illustrations is still in production and I cannot wait to see the final product! For the future I'm not sure if there has ever been an Indiana Jones stamp released, but I would love to do the illustration for that FDC someday. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was my all-time favorite movie as a kid!
You also illustrated a First Day Cover for the Grand Tetons National Park. Tell us about your love for the national parks. Have you visited many of them? Do you have a favorite and why? Where would you still like to visit?
Many artists are drawn to the beauty of nature's monuments and some have played a key role in the formation of our National Park System. Thomas Moran's paintings depicting the geological features of the landscape around areas of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers proved essential in convincing Congress to establish Yellowstone as our first national park. Ansel Adams took his iconic black and white photographs to Congress, in great part leading to the establishment of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 1940. After viewing so many famous paintings and photographs of the parks, I would love to visit many of them.
We have started taking our kids to a few when we can. So far they have loved seeing a bear cub shimmy up a tree in Shenandoah National Park and enjoyed the beauty of the Skyline Drive. They have hiked several trails including an iron rung trail in Acadia National Park. An iron rung trail is a type of trail that has sections where you climb iron ladders attached to the side of a small cliff. El Yunque National Rainforest in Puerto Rico was beautiful. Though it isn't part of a national park, one of the coolest experiences visiting Puerto Rico was kayaking as a family at night through a mangrove into a bioluminescent bay! I think out of all of the national parks, the one I would like most for us to visit someday is Yellowstone for its diverse wildlife and geologically unique features.
Acadia National Park, Maine - looking for eagles!
Kayaking in Bio Bay, Puerto Rico, United States
Wildlife in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
I prefer realism rendered in a painterly fashion and my favorite subjects are wildlife and landscapes. So I admire any artists past or present who excel at this type of artwork. But my absolute favorite artist is Bucks County's Robert Seufert. If you haven't seen his paintings, you really have to check them out.
Tell us about Newtown Art for Kids, how it began, what are the goals, and how can parents sign up their children for art lessons?
About six years ago, my youngest daughter said, "Mom, you should give art lessons for kids." She was only seven years old at the time, but it proved to be good advice. Since then, I have been giving lessons out of my home to small groups of kids; six or less at a time. Their ages range from 8-18. The kids are wonderful and I have enjoyed every minute of working with them. The goal is really not just to teach them to paint and draw well, but also to help them feel confident about their work and celebrate their accomplishments through local shows and exhibits. The students' work can often be found at The Middletown Grange Fair Art Show in the summer or at our own spring and fall group exhibits at Countryside Gallery in Newtown. We recently had a show there titled "Discovering America's Treasures Through Art" in which each student created an oil painting of a different National Park. It is great to see a student go from their first day saying "I'm not very good at drawing" to winning a ribbon at the local art show and feeling truly proud of themselves!
Interested parents can view our website:
Newtown Art for Kids - http://www.newtownartforkids.com to see what we do and check the class availability. Then they can send me an email and we can go from there.
You can see some of Bonnie's students' works here:
How can our readers become collectors of your art?
Many of the ornaments that I have designed can now be found at:
Replacements.com - http://www.replacements.com
First Day Covers are extremely affordable miniature works of art and can be collected through:
Collins First Day Covers - http://www.collinsfirstdaycovers.net
At the moment, my fine art has been through commission only, but I do hope to eventually create prints and have an inventory to sell either through a gallery, my website, or an Etsy shop online. When I do, I will post the information on my website:
Bonnie Porter.com - http://www.bonnieporter.com
Links of Interest:
The College of New Jersey - http://tcnj.pages.tcnj.edu/
Grumbacher - http://grumbacher.chartpak.com/
Countryside Custom Frame Design and Gallery - http://www.countrysidegalleryandframing.com/
Robert Seufert - http://seufertart.com/
Newtown Historic Association - http://www.newtownhistoric.org/index.html
Lenox - http://www.lenox.com
American Philatelic Society - http://stamps.org/Home
United States Postal Service - Stamp Collecting - https://about.usps.com/corporate-social-responsibility/stamp-collecting.htm
Smithsonian National Postal Museum - Stamp Collecting - http://postalmuseum.si.edu/stamp-collecting/
American First Day Cover Society - http://www.afdcs.org/
Thomas Moran The Complete Works - http://www.thomas-moran.org/
Thomas Moran's Diary Yellowstone - http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/historyculture/thomasmoransdiary.htm
Yellowstone National Park - http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
The Ansel Adams Gallery - http://www.anseladams.com/
Sequoia and Kings Canyon - http://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm
El Yunque National Rainforest - http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque
El Yunque - http://www.elyunque.com/
National Parks - http://www.nps.gov
Acadia National Park, Maine - http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm
Acadia National Park Insider Guide - http://www.acadiamagic.com/
Shenandoah, Virginia - http://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
Explore Shenandoah - http://www.goshenandoah.com/
Skyline Drive - http://www.goshenandoah.com/explore/skyline-drive
Bio Bay Kayak Tours - http://www.kayakingpuertorico.com/pages/biobay.html
Bioluminescent Bay and Other Things to Do in Puerto Rico - http://biobaypuertorico.com/
Welcome to Puerto Rico! - http://www.topuertorico.org/