Category Creativity

Dylan Metrano: Crafting Tiny Marvels in a Cozy Space


Dylan Metrano
© Brian Fitzgerald

Dylan Metrano perches atop an adjustable office chair that—along with his drafting table—dominates his top-floor home studio. Glow-in-the-dark stars cling to the ceiling, remnants of a bygone nursery. A bookcase and artwork adorn the walls of its 8×10-foot interior.

“I’m in the space that I need, because I don’t work particularly big. My cutting mat is only 12′ x 12′ so I don’t really go much bigger than that,” says Metrano, a paper cutting artist based in Bath, Maine. “I wish I had more wall space to hang more art up in, but in general I’ve got everything I need in here, he says. “I can’t imagine working without it.”

In this cramped space, Metrano meticulously crafts paper designs, melding shapes and colors for cards, logos, T-shirts, posters, album covers, calendars and more. “My tools for paper cutting are basically an X-Acto knife, a glue stick and a ruler,” he explains. His sole extravagance, the rolling chair, came from an advance for illustrating a children’s book years ago. “I have to have a nice surface and a nice seat,” he explains.

Bending over his table, knife in hand, Metrano swiftly carves a black piece of paper with a stenciled design. The paper measures perhaps six inches square. It’s an animal—a bird.

Dylan Metrano
© Brian Fitzgerald

“Birds are definitely one of my favorites. There’s so many varieties and they’re so colorful and interesting. The feathers are really fun to create,” he says.

Metrano grew up in Massachusetts but frequented the coast of Maine as a child. He later worked on Monhegan Island, where he met his future wife, Mandy. They eventually married, settling down and starting a chocolate-making business called La Nef Chocolate. Throughout it all, Metrano continued crafting paper art, even when lacking a dedicated space. “When I first moved to Monhegan (Island) I was doing paper cutting in the cafe there, but it’s distracting with people coming and going.”

Metrano pauses, glancing up at his MacBook. The screen reveals a reference image of the subject that is gradually taking shape, cut by cut, on his board. It’s a Killdeer, a small shorebird. Metrano adds bits of colored paper—red for the eyes, brown for the head and feathers, white for the breast. Almost done.

Birds are easier to create with than people, Metrano observes. “You don’t have to be so specific with birds or animals because they’re not recognizable as an individual. If I try to do a Prince portrait and the nose is not quite right, it’s not going to look like him. That’s where it gets more difficult. Those are harder to do ultimately, but they’re really gratifying when they come out well,” he says.

When creating purely for personal enjoyment, Metrano—a lifelong musician as well as an artist–prefers to create musician portraits. “That’s what I do just for myself,” he remarks, displaying a few past creations: Deep Purple. Prince, of course. The Beatles, and others—both famous and obscure.

Beatles Portraits
© Brian Fitzgerald

Despite its limited size, Metrano’s studio is a sanctuary. When he enters, he disengages from the world outside. “It’s more like switching off,” Metrano chuckles. “It’s a meditative exercise for me. Once I’ve got my pencil marks down on paper and I start cutting, I don’t really think about it. A couple of hours goes by and I’ve got a piece done.”

Killdeer Bird
© Brian Fitzgerald

With the Killdeer finished, intricate cuts highlighting texture and color, Metrano rises from the table. His workspace is illuminated by a solitary desk lamp in the now-darkened room. It’s late, and his work is done.

“I do it because I enjoy it. If I ever find that I’m not enjoying it, I just won’t do it,” Metrano says, glancing around his close confines. “I’ll just go make more chocolates.”



Dylan Metrano
© Brian Fitzgerald

Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.

Neon Dave: Shining Bright in Portland’s East Bayside

Neon Dave
Dave Jacobsen, AKA, “Neon Dave” at his East Bayside studio.  © Brian Fitzgerald

Dave Johansen, known as Neon Dave, pauses and surveys his workspace in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood. Filled with piles of cut glass tubes, a various boxes and hand-drawn designs on paper, the cluttered area is one of three he utilizes in a shared space. “As a self-employed single person, it’s nice to have other people around sometimes,” he says. “Other times, it’s nice to rock out by yourself and get a lot of work done. But having people around makes everything more fun.”

Neon Dave has been a neon artist since 2003. “I was already doing art and painting and was using a lot of reflective, fluorescent colors and metallics,” Johansen explains. “I started thinking about incorporating light into the art, then researched neon, and I just decided to do it.”

© Brian Fitzgerald

He clarifies that while ‘neon’ traditionally refered to the use of neon gas–which produces a distinctive orange light–the name has come to encompass the use of various gasses and chemicals that produce a variety of colors used in glass tube signage and artwork.

Johansen’s studio is divided into sections: administration, assembly and paint, storage, and a glass flash shop, where tubes are heated, shaped, filled with gas, and bombarded with electrons.

Dave likes his studio’s location, amidst other art studios in a now-trendy neighborhood peppered with breweries and coffee shops. “It’s been interesting to have a front-row seat to a changing neighborhood as one of the first wave of artists,” he reflects. “The character has certainly changed. But I like being close to the action. For my local clients, if something goes wrong, like a transformer failure, I can respond quickly without spending the whole day.”

© Brian Fitzgerald



Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.

A Space Called Home: Joe Rosshirt



Artist in his studio
Joe Rosshirt, owner of FortHouse Studios. © Brian Fitzgerald

“Kids from an early age all think they’re artists. They’ll raise their hands if you ask them in kindergarten class, says Joe Rosshirt. “Every year that goes by, less and less hands will come up, to a point where you’re self-conscious to put your hand up.”

Joe Rosshirt is an illustrator, animator and artist who operates FortHouse Studios out of his home studio in South Portland, Maine. Over the past 15 years, the Maine College of Art (MECA) graduate has worked with all types of clients incuding national and regional marketing agencies and sells his own creations at art festivals and other venues.

© Brian Fitzgerald

It’s a long way from his childhood, when he remembers doubting his dream of being an artist. “I thought, I shouldn’t be an artist because all artists are poor,” Rosshirt says. “You think that ‘starving artists’ is the one rule for artists. It’s a limiting belief.”

Rosshirt has operated out of other spaces, but this studio—he’s been here for about a year—is the first he’s owned. “I love the security. I don’t have to think where I’ll be next year. My rent’s not going up and I’m not getting pushed out. That was always a back-of-the-mind issue with all my other spaces,” he says.

Rosshirt’s previous studio was larger and ‘gorgeous’ but he says he realized after a few years that it wasn’t the space that made him an artist. “The space affects your creativity, turning into a creativity vacuum chamber. If you make the space your own, your ideas can live there. It feels like I can just access those ideas by being here.”

Rosshirt doesn’t have a set schedule, usually getting into the studio by 10 but often working odd hours. “I transition into work mode easily. Even in the middle of the night, I act on it,” he explains. “Nine-to-five never got me into a flow state. Lightning strikes of creativity can’t be predicted.” He adds: “The Stephen King style isn’t for me: ‘Show up, do work, get out.’ Not my approach.” 

One of the things Rosshirt loves most about his work is going to art shows, where he sells directly to the public.  “I have this tagline, ‘Make Happy Happen'”, he says.   “I just want to spread smiles.  That’s enough.  I don’t need to make the sale.”

© Brian Fitzgerald


Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.


Gael McKeon: Inspired and Unbound


Bass Luthier
Bass Luthier Gael McKeon, Portland, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

“As a young (bass) luthier, I thought I was going to make all of these innovative changes. You see people doing it all the time: they change (instruments) sporadically. It doesn’t work. If you’re going to make it different, (the instrument) still has to work,” says Gael McKeon.

© Brian Fitzgerald

McKeon, originally from New York City, has been a double bass luthier since 1998. He’s since worked and studied in New York, North Carolina, San Francisco, and Toulouse, France, before moving to Maine. In his workshop on the third floor of the State Theater building on Congress Street, McKeon repairs and restores traditional instruments while designing his own.

“Humidity and temperature control is essential. I’m ruined without that,” says McKeon of his tidy but cramped space, one wall dominated by views of Congress Street below. McKeon describes his shop as the ‘second best’ space he’s ever had. “I’m here mostly because of the windows,” he says. “It’s just big enough so that I can manage the amount of repairs that I can handle. If I had less space, I would have to tell people to hold on to their instruments while I finished other things. Here, I can juggle a little bit, and I can have adequate machinery.”

McKeon also builds his own instruments. He describes his approach as conventional, using traditional proportions, but with his own departures of design inspired by classic and modern forms. One bass on display in his shop sat broken for 12 years before he restored it with a paper fingerboard and a custom scroll that he first sketched in 1998. “I’ve added some innovations,” says McKeon, “but there are technical reasons for its aesthetics.”


Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.

© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


Cut it Out: When Less is More


Maine Cops
Pete Herring, District Game Warden with the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, © Brian Fitzgerald


My default mode seems set to Acquire: Get more gear, more software, more skills, new stuff. But more isn’t better. It’s often a trap. Over time, the act of acquiring can become the goal itself.

That’s why the skill of subtraction is so important.

Subtractive lighting is critical in portrait photography. Blanket a subject with light, and then step by step, remove or block light to reveal shadow, shape and negative space. Stop when things get interesting. Light makes images possible, but shadow is what gives images definition, mood and impact.

The same concept applies elsewhere in life. Pruning makes plants stronger. Editing is critical for impactful writing. Decluttering homes make it easier to live in them. Cutting away the old and extraneous gives space for other things to grow.

Adding new things to life is fun and essential, but so is regular culling. I try to carve out time regularly, ideally at least twice a year, to evaluate and to subtract things that no longer work for me or are preventing progress on meaningful work. Embrace the process of subtraction by regularly and systematically clearing out the overgrowth in your life. You might be surprised by the things you learn and discover along the way.



Erica Moody: Forging Art in a Maine Barn

Erica Moody with Elio, © Brian Fitzgerald

Erica Moody, a metal fabricator and artist, sits in the late-1800s barn that now serves as her workshop in Waldoboro, Maine.  

Moody has been working with metal for more than three decades. After years working in Boston, she chose to move to Maine to forge a simpler life—and the handcrafted serving utensils she is increasingly known for.  Moody uses traditional metal crafting methods to make spoons, knives and other wares from copper, brass and steel.  Her work has been featured in local and national publications, such as Bon Appétit and Saveur.

After years of working with large pieces of metal, her scaled-down workshop—filled with vintage machining tools—is the perfect place to create her one-of-a-kind spoons, coffee scoops, and knives.  It’s also attached to her home, built in 1854.  “To be close to home, to be able to work right here is everything. It’s why I moved to Maine,” she says.

Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery. 

© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


Metal Artist Erica Moody
© Brian Fitzgerald

In the Room Where It Happens

Boxing Coach
Coach Bob Russo, Portland Boxing Club. © Brian Fitzgerald

During my years as a newspaper photo editor, I often invited myself into any meetings I saw that included an editor and writers.  Leaning into the doorway I’d ask, “Should I be in here?”  Early involvement in story development leads to better visual opportunities, benefitting the story and ultimately, readers.

Images wield unique emotional power.  This seems intuitive, and research backs it up.  Words are potent, but images go straight for the gut.  For evidence of the power of prose, pick up Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.  But pair that visceral sort of writing with images that connect, and the impact multiplies.

Engaging in the storytelling process fires me up. There are tactical mountains to climb: the right questions to ask that dig deep into the marrow of the narrative bones of a story.

But you’ve got to be in the room.  You’ve got to have a chair and be part of the planning.  Even before the story takes shape.  Before you know where the story will take you.


From Cartoons to Glass: A Creative Maine Journey


Maine Glassblower David Jacobson
David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

David Jacobson was a freshman majoring in telecommunications at Kent State University in Ohio when he happened upon an outdoor glassblowing demonstration. “I knew at that moment that was something I needed to do,” he said.

It took a few years—and a few colleges—but Jacobson did end up studying for an MFA in glassblowing. He also became a professional editorial cartoonist for a Gannett newspaper in New York, where he is from, spending his career cartooning for various publications and with a full-time syndicated cartoon with United Media. Still, he found himself taking more glassblowing classes on the side. “Things were going well there. Yet it turned out that my cartooning supported my glass habit,” said Jacobson.

By 2003, Jacobson’s glass art was selling in galleries. He relocated to Montville, Maine that same year and did what Mainers do: cobbled together an income,  by running a glass studio and a house-painting business.

Maine Glassblower David Jacobson
David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

He rebuilt his 200-year-old barn into a glass studio. “There was a lot of hard work, a lot of doubt, and a lot of moments thinking, ‘I’m the biggest idiot in the world.’ But the passion was always there and fortunately, the talent was always there too. I just kept meeting the right people and kept saying yes.”

Saying yes is what led Jacobson to co-found a studio with artist Carmi Katsir as part of the Waterfall Arts in Belfast. They built out the studio using much of Jacobson’s equipment from his old studio, adapting it to run off of vegetable oil and electricity—one of just a handful in the US. Now, Jacobson produces his own work and, together with Katsir and others, teaches hot glass classes to the public and to Belfast high school students.

David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald


David Jacobson, Glassblower, Belfast, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

Of the studio, owned by Waterfall Arts, Jacobson says that he’s grateful. “It allows me to do work that makes me the happiest I’ve ever been.”

As a creative business owner, Jacobson was used to being a lone wolf but is excited by the community aspect of the Waterfall Arts Glassworks. “One of the greatest assets of glassblowing is that it is community-oriented. People are trained to work with someone. So to come into this community situation is thrilling. It’s affected my work in that it’s given me great enthusiasm to try new things,” Jacobson said.

“It’s beyond any kind of vision that I ever had.”

David Jacobson, Belfast, Maine ©Brian Fitzgerald



Find out more about the Waterfall Arts Glassworks or to sign up for a class at the only public-access glassblowing studio in Maine. 

Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.

A Tradition Forged in Iron


The artists and craftsmen who call Maine home share a cultural heritage with those who have gone before them.  This link to the past is epitomized by Sam Smith, an aptly-named blacksmith who operates several forges across the state as guildmaster of the  Maine Blacksmith’s Guild.

Smith and the guild use and teach 19th-century techniques and practices and have an active apprenticeship program. Smith also teaches and works his trade in Germany and Brazil for months each year.

“Preserving the skill set of working iron by hand and not allowing machines to do the work is my mission,” says Smith.

I spent time with Smith last year as part of a larger project on Maine craftsmen and artists and am happy to be able to show it here.  Smith was crafting a Brazilian Churrasco BBQ knife with a handle made from Peroba wood reclaimed from a 120-year-old home.  


Brazilian Churrasco Knife, © Sam Smith

Rituals That Preserve Energy and Creativity

Photo Shoot Gear LIst
Gear Checklist © Brian Fitzgerald


With years of commercial and editorial photography under my belt, I’ve learned that the devil is truly in the details. Never mind the big stuff, like bustling locations or fickle weather. It’s the little things that make or break a shoot. Like the old proverb goes, “for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost”, small errors can lead to big problems.

Photographers and videographers juggle a lot. From equipment to location details, timing to names—keeping track of it all is a Herculean task. That’s why experienced pros systemize their workflows to preempt surprises and minimize errors.

My pre- and post-shoot rituals are a must. Sure, they’re mundane and time-consuming, but not skipping them is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. I always kick-off each location shoot with a gear checklist. Once packed, I tick off each item once more lest I wind up forgetting a digital card or battery. Post-shoot, the list doubles up to check off used items and note gear needing servicing.

My other post-shoot ritual is a comprehensive review—think of a military-style After-Action Review. This step is vital to noting both wins and areas for improvement. Only then can I truly learn and progress. This entire process adds about an hour, but it’s saved me ample headaches and led to constant refinement of my processes.

Over the years, I’ve used everything from journals and paper checklists to Evernote templates and now, Notion. The tech isn’t important—consistency is.

Challenge yourself to identify places in your workflow where you can add checklists and simple procedures that will free you up to focus on your creative (and more valuable) work.


Shoot Post Mortem
Shoot Post-Mortem by Brian Fitzgerald