GROTON -- Before delving into a lesson on Chinese brush painting, art counselor Chris Cyr stresses chi and posture to young campers.
It's how he begins all his lessons. Campers gather around his table as he explains the day's project in two steps: first, a jagged brown branch, second, adorn the branch with flowers. The importance of posture and chi, he says, is part of his notion he wants to convey: "Hey, art matters."
Subjects he teaches the kids are culled from his years at the Rhode Island School of Design, from which he graduated in June with a degree in illustration.
Cyr is spending the summer as the art director of ArtWorks summer camp at the Groton School. The program is put on by 3 River Arts, a Groton-based nonprofit artist collaborative.
Much of the knowledge he brings to camp -- lessons on brush painting, African mask making and Japanese windsock fish -- not only can provide kids with a creative outlet, he says, but a way to learn about world culture.
Campers, in turn, provide him with something more than just a job.
"They're my target audience," Cyr said.
By the end of his four-year program at RISD, he had received recognition for honor in illustration and an official selection and scholarship in the Society of Illustrators.
With the degree and accolades, he is now back home in Pepperell, looking for new outlets for his art, exploring things like packaging and other integrated media.
But Cyr's biggest
"Watching the kids work and seeing what they are interested in works for me," he said. "I enjoy interacting and showing them my work. Their reactions inform my art."
"The Night Ferry" is one of his first professional pieces, printed on a postcard. It is a night scene on a forest floor. A mysterious looking bug, drawn to look similar to a Star Wars walker, towers above a bunny. Another bunny, accompanied by two chicks, is riding in the walker, peering downward.
"Strangeness and charm," Cyr said. "I like to play that up, a little creepy and unusual."
The scene is surreal, like other examples of his work, which can be viewed on his site Plaidcats.com. It's a strange intersection of fantasy, fables, steampunk and sci-fi.
Personified characters from the animal kingdom are everywhere -- a caterpillar with grasshopper parents visiting a library, a dog-pilot flying a barrel airplane, miners (bunny, chick and fox) riding lobster-bugs into caves.
Everything from Pokemon to illustrative godfather J.C. Leyendecker informs his artistic decision making, Cyr said. Two of his contemporary influences are Edward Gorey, a gothic-influenced illustrator, and Bran Sleznick ("Invention of Hugo Cabaret").
"I have no problem walking into the children's book section, looking through the books. It's the best section," Cyr says.
And for all the art he finds there, he also looks at the storytelling, an entirely different creative aspect of his work.
Cyr said that fairy tales and the way Russian mythology has a "darker take on death" are important influences there.
"The way I like to tell a story is to talk about death in a complete way. It's unusual, and it has a happy ending," he said.
There is only a niche market for a style such as his, Cyr said. Although his graphic novel isn't finished, he explained it concerned a lion, a bird and a mistakenly eaten friend.
Sometimes, he story-boards ideas and draws into them, other times, he "doodles" until he discovers a visual idea.
His work is digital, produced with Photoshop. After finishing a sketch, he will scan them into his computer and work on shading first and bring in colors after.
"It's what I do seven days a week," said Cyr. "All day, every day."
Along with it being his second year teaching at the ArtWorks camp, Cyr is also a member of 3 River Arts, which does community outreach, education and promotion based around art.
"The kids are so lucky to have him as a teacher," 3 River Arts PR Director Julia Pampinella said. "His imagination is huge, and he is passionate about what he does -- it is an honor to have such talent at the camp."
Some of Cyr's pieces can be viewed on Plaidcats.com, a site he began when he was 14, where he also provides contact info, keeps a blog and posts animation.
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