SARAH SMILEY

‘Flat Stanley’ illustrator sparks creativity as dinner guest

Posted May 19, 2012, at 1:32 p.m.
Sarah Smiley
Sarah Smiley

Earlier this month, we were lucky to host Scott and Nancy Nash, both artists traveling from Portland, at our home in Bangor. I say “lucky” because Scott and Nancy almost didn’t make it. I had given them bad directions and the wrong exit number off the highway. Nothing says “welcome” like getting off the interstate and realizing you’re lost.

Scott is a children’s book illustrator. He illustrated the “Flat Stanley” series and the just-released title, “The Cat in the Rhinestone Suit,” by John Carter Cash, son of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. But if you’ve ever read books written by Nash (“Tuff Fluff,” for example), you know that he has what Mainers would call a “wicked sense of humor.” Getting lost on the way to dinner with people he didn’t know just made for a better story.

Scott and Nancy were incredibly fun and easy guests. The conversation — and the laughs — flowed effortlessly. The boys showed Scott their party tricks (“cracking” your back with an empty plastic bottle hidden in your shirt), and Scott taught them some new ones (flipping a pencil around your knuckles). We were having so much fun, I don’t think anyone noticed that the chicken salad was store-bought or that the frozen pizza for the kids was cold in the middle.

The evening was warm, so we spent a lot of time on the back porch. This ended up being a good thing because Scott had a special, messy surprise for us: a life-size Flat Stanley that he had drawn on cardboard, plus loads of paint for the kids to make Stanley their own.

Cardboard Stanley arrived on the deck unassembled — a pile of pants, dismembered hands, a head and a shirt. This made “sharing” the work easier. Lindell rolled blue paint on the pants. Ford designed the shirt and painted the hands. Then things got a little weird with the head when Owen gave Stanley a goatee and sideburns.

If you have an artist friend in your life, you know that creativity and inspiration supplant all to-do lists. As soon as Scott noticed Stanley’s new facial hair, he playfully wiped some orange on Owen’s cheek, which, of course (why not?), led to Owen painting a full beard and mustache on his face.

Older brother Ford, not to be outdone, decided that if Owen was going to paint a beard, then he was going to paint his whole head, hair and neck a mix of orange, red and purple.

Lindell stuck with a modest, black “box car” mustache.

After Stanley and the boys were painted and properly blown-dry with my hairdryer, there was still some paint left in the bottles.

Question: What do you do with leftover paint?

Answer: When you’re playing with Scott Nash, you find cardboard, go out into the yard and make some Jackson Pollock-like masterpieces.

Many times, Lindell emerged from the flurry of flying paint and color-soaked brothers to exclaim, “This is the best day of my whole life!”

But artists’ paints, like facial creams, tend to stiffen and crack as they dry on the skin. Panic came over Ford’s face when Nancy jokingly told him to “pick a good expression” before his face hardened. All the boys went running in horror to the bathroom for a shower. Which is why the second, but equally urgent, answer to my previous question about leftover paint is: “Eventually, it all ends up in your bathtub.”

After the boys had cleared their facial hair, Scott gave us a sneak peek at his new book, “The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate,” due out in September. Always, however, conversation and our awareness circled back to the ever-present Stanley. I suspect this was Stanley’s plan. No one puts Flat Stanley in the corner.

While Scott and Nancy were perfectly enjoyable throughout the dinner and night, Stanley, I have to say, was a tad creepy. He stared at us from the rocking chair in the living room. Then he found a spot in Owen’s bed and peered out from beneath the covers. At least once, his melon-sized head even appeared lurking through the kitchen window.

Alas, we knew the fun night had come to an end when Ford fell asleep on the couch and his brothers arranged Stanley so that he was petting Ford’s hair, snuggling next to him or staring at him from the stairs.

Scott thought Stanley’s creepy, Mona Lisa-like eyes were hilarious. But he didn’t have to sleep in the same house with Stanley. I worried that I might wake up with Stanley waiting for me at the end of my bed. So I locked him in the basement with our life-size, cardboard Darth Vader.

The next day, what I found instead of Stanley were some incredible cartoon drawings that the boys, inspired by Nash, had made of themselves, proving once again that magnificent things happen when you invite people into your home. The inspiration and the effect linger … like a cardboard cutout with a goatee and sideburns.

I won’t put this gift in the basement.

See pictures of the Nashs’ visit at www.Facebook.com/DinnerWithTheSmileys.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.

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