Portrait of a Rumson Artist

March 17, 2018
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Artist Lori Oakes works in a studio in the backyard of the home that once belonged to her grandparents. Her style can be seen around town: she is the logo designer for Brennan’s Delicatessen and Cups & Cakes and the illustrator of two children’s books on display at the Oceanic Free Library. Photo by Jay Cook

By Bernadette Hogan |

RUMSON – For artist Lori Oakes a backyard shed is not a place to store things. It’s a place to make things.

Inside her little outbuilding on Forrest Avenue exists a world of art. The walls are papered with published projects and storyboard sketches. Sealed egg cartons keep an assortment of oil paints from drying out and cardboard carriers hold brushes, scissors and glue. A giant Mac computer dominates her desk.

“I’m not a ‘realistic artist.’ ” said Oakes during a tour of the sunlit studio, where rock music played softly. “I like thinking of a funny situation, something animated and exciting, and then developing characters.”

“But you should learn the rules first and then experiment. For someone like me, I work best that way, by experimenting.”

Years ago, with local artist Evelyn Leavens of Red Bank, Oakes dabbled in cel animation. She doodled and created characters inspired by Dr. Seuss, Disney and Peanuts.

Oakes attended the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, taking courses in design, painting and illustration. A senior year experience made her realize how she wanted to share her art.

“I interned with a school for the deaf in one of the Philly suburbs. I’ll never forget how I used to walk into a cafeteria filled with students with hands flying, lighting up the room,” Oakes remembers. “I illustrated my own interpretation of Jack and the Beanstalk and the book was printed and used in the school.”

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The picture book spoke for itself, delivering the fairy tale’s message without words. “That experience was incredible, and it was then I thought, ‘Wow you can use your art to help others.’ ”

She turned that love into a profession.

For many years Oakes worked out of a professional studio in Red Bank, collaborating with other design and advertising agencies, notably McCann-Corbran Advertising and Design, formerly of Fair Haven. She worked on projects for the Ringling Brothers, AT&T and developed the firstaid character Maxwell the Mouse for Riverview Medical Center. She designed logos for local businesses like Brennan’s Delicatessen and Cups & Cakes.

But in her other job as a Forrest Avenue crossing guard, Oakes continued to draw inspiration from children. She drew little girls in mismatched polka dot outfits with cowgirl boots, hair swinging in ponytails, and huddles of boys heading back with her sons from basketball practice. The characters and storylines began appearing all over everyday life. She enjoyed observing the way her sons, John and Tommy Oakes, viewed the world.

Around that time, Oakes was also helping a close family friend write and illustrate a story for his daughter, when she decided, “This is what I want to do.”

She embarked on a series of children’s stories with her neighbor, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, (this reporter’s mother) to teach kids about the environment, self-acceptance and following dreams. The team has published two out of five stories, “Suzy the Scene” and “Peter the Polluter.” Their next book will focus on the distractions of texting.

“Each book has a lesson,” Oakes says. “It’s simple and poignant.”

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Each book has a theme, too, about respecting the planet and using your unique talent to live up to your potential.


This article was first published in the Around Town: Rumson special section in the March 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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