A new flock of baby chicks, two beautiful hens (one of whom was at the Common Ground Country Fair) and a crowing rooster: This year’s winning design for the Common Ground poster, T-shirts, tote bags, cover of the Fairbook issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, and other products was Susan Balch’s second submission to the contest – and her second win.
In 2002, Balch’s “Dancing Corn” design, with its gorgeous, natural colors and fruitful but frivolous feel, caught the design judges’ attention. This year they loved her poultry scene.
The 2005 design had been incubating in Balch’s mind since 2001, when “the idea had already hatched to do a chicken design.” Her friend, the late Ted Williams, had kept chickens for years, giving them such plucky names as “Loco Weed” and “Jacob with His Coat of Many Colors.” Balch was inspired by their various personalities when she visited Williams.
She tried to transform her idea into art, but kept discarding the attempts … until last year, when “I finally decided how I would do it.” The linoleum cut design, handpainted with watercolor on rice paper, came out “just beautiful.”
The hen on the right is one that Balch saw at the 2002 Common Ground Fair, and the other is from a book called Living with Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock, by Jay Rossier and Geoff Hansen (photographer). “I bought [the book] because of the pictures of chickens [in it]. After I bought and read it, I lent it to people. It’s a wonderful, delightful book, if anybody ever wanted to raise chickens.” Models for the flock of little chicks came from that book and USDA pamphlets.
The rooster was inspired by a small photo accompanying an article about the way roosters crow to attract hens, and the hens just don’t care. “That is not what does it for the hens,” says Balch with a laugh, recalling the article. “I just thought that was a funny article, and it had a beautiful picture of a rooster.”
Once her work was done, Balch “thought I had a chance to win. I knew [the design] would look good on a poster.”
A true back-to-the-lander, Balch came from Maryland to Swanville, Maine, in 1971 after answering an ad in a newspaper to help someone build a house – despite the fact that she had no house building experience. After that job, she built the initial part of her own home, with free labor from friends, for $3,000 in the late ’70s. She added an art studio and a “real bathroom” later, after “many years with nothing but an indoor hand pump.”
Art was part of her life all this time. She did wood and linoleum block prints that she then hand painted with watercolors – a very labor-intensive process that never enabled her to earn her entire living through art, and a time-consuming process that she felt was throwing her life out of balance, not leaving time for friends and gardening. So, about 10 years ago, she started working at Liberty Graphics and has been there ever since.
“I enjoy going to work,” she says. She is the only hand color-separator there (one other person separates colors on a computer), where she breaks down pictures into 10 or fewer colors so that the colors can be printed on top of each other. “It’s like undoing a painting,” she comments, adding that the work suits her perfectly. “Most printing these days is four-color process printing. It doesn’t have the fine quality look that using 10 colors and fine detail separation, getting all the gradations in color, does.” She has also designed T-shirts for Liberty Graphics. Common Ground fairgoers and MOF&G readers may recall her “Starting from Seed” and “Healing Herbs” designs, which have been featured on the back page of The MOF&G in Liberty Graphics’ ads.
When she isn’t doing art on paper or fabric, Balch is designing in her small flower and vegetable garden. “It’s like a French country garden,” she says, with flowers interplanted among vegetables. “It’s a work of art. Well, I try. It’s an artistic endeavor.”