Haddonfield Friends art teacher flexes creative muscles during pandemic

Lucey provides illustrations for new memoir about sibling rivalry.

Author and teacher Rory Lucey (right) welcomes fans of “Bad Sister,” to which he lent his illustrations, during a book signing at Inkwood on Sept. 14.

Longtime Haddonfield Friends School teacher Rory Lucey has greeted the new school year with renewed resolve, intent on keeping his young charges interested and invested in the artistic process.

“Even though some things are happening outside, and some things are happening in masks, the focus is still providing the best possible education,” said Lucey, now in his 12th year of teaching at the school.

“For me, that means we’re still creating art, we’re taking creative chances and creating work that’s exciting and fun.”

Those ideals are ever present in Lucey’s side gig, too. He held a signing at Inkwood Books on the evening of Sept. 14 for the long-awaited “Bad Sister,” a memoir by Charise Mericle Harper about growing up as an older sibling in 1970s Canada. Lucey lent his illustrative talent to the book.

“I came on board once the story was written, and it was my job to visualize her story, so I worked off of photographs and Google searches of things like what supermarkets were like in the 70s, and tried as best as I could to help communicate what she had envisioned,” he  explained.

Inspiration struck during familiar and less familiar artistic ventures. Lucey cited the iconic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson as a chief influence, along with recent graphic novels, “Be Prepared,” by Vera Brosgol, and Jen Wang’s “The Prince and the Dressmaker.”

Drawing on the infusion of heart and humor in those sources, Lucey made sure his drawings reflected well on what Harper laid out in her story. It was a creative process fueled by the distinct lack of distractions, since COVID forced a majority of Americans to stave off the boredom of quarantine.

Lucey started drawing in June 2019 and finished in December 2020, with the bulk of his illustrations completed in the summer of 2020.

“And truthfully, because things weren’t going on outside, it meant that I didn’t have to feel guilty that I was chained to my desk working because I wasn’t missing anything,” he quipped. “So, I worked pretty much consistently through that whole year, from the rough stages to the finish lines, to (adding) color and texture over the 230 pages of the book.”

But the finish line kept being moved farther along, thanks to COVID-related shipping delays that held up the book’s release: “Bad Sister” was supposed to debut in mid-July, then was pushed back to late July, then August, and finally mid-September. Lucey is concentrating on promotion, elated to finally have the finished product in his hands.

“We’re all just happy that it’s real,’’ he admitted. “It’s out, and now people can see it.”

Lucey can now concentrate on the day-to-day challenges of grade-school instruction. He’s already impressed with how his students have adapted to in person classes with pandemic protocols. Teachers at HFS, he noted, are committed to making sure the focus is where it’s always been — in daily lessons.

Armed with that perseverance and dedication, plus a touch of inspiration, perhaps one day one of Lucey’s students will follow in his footsteps.

To find out more about the book, or to purchase it, visit: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250219053/bad-sister.