Artistic notebook doodles

  • Linda Baker-Cimini in her Colrain home-studio. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZz

  • Linda Baker-Cimini in her Colrain home studio. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Linda Baker-Cimini in her Colrain home. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Linda Baker-Cimini works on a drawing. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

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  • An artistic rendering of Linda Baker-Cimini at her Colrain home-studio. Staff illustration/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2019 8:35:40 AM
Modified: 7/18/2019 8:35:30 AM

Linda Baker-Cimini's pen-and-ink drawings are like notebook doodles turned into an art form. Her subjects are weird hybrid animals, and cock-eyed and bemused humans, rendered with a mix of clean, precise lines and crooked scribbles, sometimes with a caption that seems pulled from the middle of a children's book.

“This was my world when I was a kid,” Baker-Cimini said. “Some people grow out of it. I just never did.”

Baker-Cimini, who lives in Colrain, grew up in New Ashford, a small town in Berkshire County, along Route 7 halfway between Pittsfield and Williamstown. There was no television in her childhood home. But there was a bookmobile in town. Clay was her first toy, she said. When she found out it could harden and break, she switched to paper and pens. Harold from the children’s book “Harold and the Purple Crayon” became her hero because he imagines his own world and creates it.

“Anything you ever need to know, you can learn from Harold,” Baker-Cimini said.

In her 30s, Baker-Cimini says she found a copy of the book, which she still has and occasionally references for inspiration. Along with it are the children's books of William Steig, a cartoonist who worked for the New Yorker starting in the 1930s and later wrote children's books such as “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” and “Shrek!”

“The quality of his line is really rich,” Baker-Cimini said.

Sneaking into her childhood collection of books was German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. A poster of Dürer's “Young Hare,” hung over Baker-Cimini's bed when she was young. The painting is a practically photo-realistic image of a hare, rendered in 1502. Baker-Cimini recalls how she would stand on her bed and stretch up onto her toes to get a better look at the picture.

“I knew it wasn't a photograph. I used to stare at it and wonder how he made it,” she said.

Dürer's wood engravings tricked her too. When Baker-Cimini first saw the images, she thought their crisp, thick lines were made with pens. She tried to replicate it.

“I love the tone and texture of ink,” Baker-Cimini said. “I don't know why, but it draws me in. Sometimes I think that it's the way I see things in a more sculptural way. I see the line and the shape of something first.”

These days, Baker-Cimini works with fine-point Micron ink pens. She mostly draws on 8 ½ by 11 letter paper, starting with a pencil sketch, then going over it in ink once the composition has come together. Recently, she began experimenting with Prismacolor markers.

“Color is kind of an afterthought. I don't quite trust it,” Baker-Cimini said. She remembers, when she was young, finding something very green, and wanting to tell her brother about it. “But then I realized he might be seeing a different color, and there would be no way for me to know what he was seeing.”

Inspiration for her work can come from anywhere — phrases or bits of conversation that stick with her, for example. As a child, Baker-Cimini says she was shy and was conscious of the ways people interacted with one another. She started paying attention.

“I have the kind of mind that has catalogs,” she said.

For inspiration, she transcribes the conversations she overhears onto slips of paper, which sometimes develop into a drawing. For example, one of her drawings — of an anthropomorphic cockatoo — was inspired by a bird in a sanctuary who said, “I love you,” as Baker-Cimini was leaving. While similar, Baker-Cimini says the finished project rarely replicates the inspiration.

“Usually, if I have an idea, something different than the idea I had will come out (on the page),” she said.

Her drawings almost always start with the eyes. The eyes are usually pointing in different directions, if only slightly.

“They start looking back at me, and I decide if the picture might work,” Baker-Cimini said. “It's two channels and it's definitely not stereoscopic. Part of us is always introspective, and part of us is always looking out.” Filling out the picture, Baker-Cimini rarely works from a visual reference. Details are imagined. The parts most based in reality, she said, are the postures and facial features of her characters.

Baker-Cimini didn't start publicizing her work until about 10 years ago.

It came out of a five-year period of illness when she had such difficulty walking that she was mostly immobile. Almost the only people she saw were doctors, and they all thought she wouldn't get better. She began to think she'd been misdiagnosed. When she began to get better, she found she'd become isolated. Her art gave a way to reconnect with the world, and she reached out to find community. Her first two art shows were at a Unitarian church and a friend's newly opened gallery.

Something about Baker-Cimini's artwork connected with people. At exhibits, Baker-Cimini says visitors came to her and shared personal stories the pictures prompted them to recall. Others didn't get it — usually the ones without a sense of humor, Baker-Cimini quipped.

“The older you get, you learn you're less unique. You think you have an incredible idea, and 5,000 other people have had it,” Baker-Cimini said. “But you have your own fingerprint. You have your own way of telling your story.”

Staff reporter Max Marcus started working at the Greenfield Recorder in 2018. He covers the Montague beat. He can be reached at: mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.




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