Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 26, 2019
Children’s book a product of Brooksville collaboration
Illustrator Jill Finsen, left, and writer Charlotte Crowder are the collaborators on a new children’s book A Fine Orange Bucket. Also pictured is Crowder’s golden doodle, Matilda.
by Monique Labbe
Sometimes, an author is frustrated by not finding inspiration for a story. Other times, that inspiration comes when least expected, like on a sail to Birch Harbor.
Such was the case for Charlotte Crowder, who was on a sail with her husband when she spotted a bright orange bucket stuck between two rocks. They freed it, but Crowder’s husband bucked her requests to keep it, and the sail continued. A few hours later, they came across the bucket again, this time it was floating freely through the water.
“I just knew there was a story there,” said Crowder while sitting in her home in Brooksville.
Crowder developed the story over the next few months, and after several drafts and rewrites, A Fine Orange Bucket was born.
The manuscript was submitted to publishers, and picked up by North Country press.
The story follows an orange bucket through adventures with a variety of characters along the coast of Maine and introduces characters familiar to the Blue Hill Peninsula.
The product was still unfinished, though, without pictures to accompany the words. Enter painter and part-time Brooksville resident Jill Finsen.
“I knew I wanted to ask [Finsen] to work on this with me,” said Crowder.
The two live down the road from each other in Brooksville, Finsen on the Ferry Road and Crowder right off it on Jones Point Road. Neither had ever taken on a project like this, but both entered into it with complete focus, even though Finsen was in New York completing her master’s degree in painting.
“I’m just a painter who paints on my own,” said Finsen while sitting next to Crowder. “I was thrilled to be asked to do this.”
The pair collaborated closely during the illustration process, creating art that complemented Crowder’s words while also staying true to Finsen’s belief that the artwork should be conceptual and not literal.
“I wanted the paintings to go with Charlotte’s words, but not be so literal in depicting everything word-for-word,” said Finsen.
The result was a series of oil paintings painted on Finsen’s porch, featuring bright colors that draw the eye, particularly the eyes of a younger audience. The collaboration took the better part of two years, with Crowder frequently making the trek down the road to check out Finsen’s latest paintings, which, because her home did not include a studio at the time, were strewn about various bedrooms to dry.
Finsen enlisted the help of Frank Peasley and his daughter, Sophie, to go out on the family’s lobster boat to create sketches of the rocky coast. The boats, water, lobsters, and character costumes are all featured in the book. Finsen never took photographs, she said, but relied exclusively on those sketches to create her paintings.
“I find that when you try to paint from a photo, the painting ends up being too literal, which wasn’t what I was going for,” said Finsen. “That was the purpose of the sketches.”
For Crowder, her love of words and for the place she has lived for the last 14 years was ultimately what drove her to create the story.
“This neighborhood and this community are full of incredible people,” said Crowder.
That was proven at a recent reading of the book at the Brooksville Public Library. A crowd of over 70 came out for the reading that featured both Crowder and Finsen, and broke a record for the largest attended event at the library.
Crowder and Finsen have also done a reading at the Dry Dock in Stonington, and the Bangor Public Library. They have a reading scheduled for September 28 at the Blue Hill Public Library, and an event scheduled at Compass Rose in December, as well as a handful of others.
“The response has been really great, it’s been successful,” said Crowder.
“I don’t think we had any expectations going into it, but it has been a pleasant surprise,” added Finsen.
The book can be found at the Dry Dock, Moyo in Blue Hill, Compass Rose in Castine, and at all Sherman’s Books locations in Maine. Other bookstores have shown interest in ordering the book as well, and it has been the number two best-selling book at Blue Hill Books since July.
The book reading at the library in Blue Hill is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.