SRQ Magazine | February 2017
Nestled in the lush neighborhood on the bay-side of the North Trail, ensconced in green and great trees, past the pick-up parked out front and up the porch where one can imagine whiling away the day in semi-seclusion, a vortex of artistic energy whorls behind the unassuming front door that serves as the portal to the Casmer-GrandPré home. Inside, a dynamic geometry creates nooks and overlooks—little havens among the expected kitchen/dining room/great room scheme—and it’s easy to imagine each with a specific purpose. To the right, Thomas Casmer, a Ringling College illustration professor, leans back from the computer. Everything is digital these days, and though he still loves to draw and paint, he’s created a mini digital studio where he stays up-to-date on the latest techniques and explores his own projects. In the shared studio out back, separate from the main house, illustrator Mary GrandPré begins work on another series of characters. Fans may know her from her work on the American versions of the Harry Potter novels, but she has her own stories to tell now and her own characters to bring to life. The pair’s 12-year-old daughter Julia comes home from a day at Booker Middle and pulls out her violin. Maybe she’ll paint today. If the mood strikes.
SRQ: What do you think the impact is on a younger person to always have art around? GrandPré: Julia has been around our work since she was two. It has a huge impact, speaking from a parent point of view, in how she talks about art, how she talks about light and shadows, nature, the way the furniture is arranged, or the color or the paintings on the wall. Even composition of trees—she sees it. Casmer: I think we are raising an art director. Julia will be working on homework and Mary will be painting and will ask Julia her opinion. She has a good eye. GrandPré: She will come over and say, “This is unbalanced here or what if you brought a dark space over here?” Nine times out of ten she is right. We have to give kids more credit—they get it. She teaches me to loosen up and be a little more abstract. She teaches me to be messy and get my hands in there and not be so careful. We teach each other things, it’s pretty cool. She has mentioned it in conversation—that art is just something that everybody lives with—and I told her that a lot don’t grow up with parents who make art, and aren’t exposed to art. I was one of those kids, my dad was creative but in other ways, so I never had art around. And she said, “Really? Art is so normal, I thought everyone had art around.” And I said, “You have to learn to recognize that there is an art to everything.”
How does this play into the non-artistic aspects of her world? Casmer: In addition to the art, she loves to read, and she never used to like to read. But she found the book that turned on a switch in her head, and with that it exposes her to different images and ideas. There is an awareness I see in her, and maybe it’s more common in the kids these days from when I was younger, but we are talking everything in arts, literature and politics—we are talking politics at the dinner table! But she is aware of what is going on and, somehow, I see a connection in her awareness, and it’s expanding to all different facets of her life as she grows up. GrandPré: When we talk about art, we talk about different cultures that have different arts, color patterns that go with different cultural backgrounds, and that has opened her up to how other people create. It opens up their minds more globally and certainly it also helps them to be an individual, uninterested in the labels or the designer things. She likes that artists can wear whatever they want and get away with it, because they are cool and individual. She thinks being different is kind of cool, and I think that is a nice way of learning that every human being is unique and to celebrate that.
Does art has a family role? Casmer: Yes, there is a photo that you will never see, because Julia now being almost 12 years old refuses to let anyone see it. But years ago, Julia and Mary were working in the studio with these big pieces of brown craft paper, laying down on it, tracing each other, making shapes. Then they were going at it, and creating these fun, goofy creatures—monsters—and Julia was just a little one but they have had that kind of experience together for a long time. We had a canvas over in the corner that was an open canvas and anyone could come in and work on it at anytime, between the three of us. Mary started it, then Julia came in and worked on it for a while and I would come in and work on it for a while, and that may well be something we work on again.
Joining her parents in a collaborative work of art, Julia shares her own thoughts on art and its place in her life.
What, as you understand it, is the purpose of art? What is it for? Julia: Art is a way of expressing yourself without needing to use words. It is just a fun way to experiment, to create and share your ideas. I love it when I show someone one of my ideas and see their response to it.
Where do you find your artistic inspiration? What gives you the energy to create? Julia: I often turn to fun words that I like. When I hear the word it leads to a train of thought that almost always leads to an idea. But in everyday life I don’t really think about it too hard because even the smallest things can spark an amazing idea. I believe that if you end up thinking too hard for an idea then maybe you are looking so hard you simply can’t see what’s right in front of you.