Friday, October 9, 2015

Jerry Pinkney: Inspiring Illustrator

Last night, Jerry Pinkney was the guest speaker at the 29th Babson Memorial Lecture at the Montclair Art Museum. I think I purchased my ticket the day I received the invitation! I first discovered Jerry Pinkney when I was doing a survey of Caldecott winning books, to try to find a "formula" for winners of this prestigeous award. Since that time, I have not only learned that there is no formula, since the judges change each year, but I've learned a lot about Mr. Pinkney as well.

A Philadelphia native, he began his artistic career at around the age of 13, giving away or selling (for 50 cents of so) sketches he made while selling newspapers on a street corner in Philly. Jerry considers his boss at the newsstand to be one of his early mentors. His mother was another mentor, inspiring him by reading Uncle Remus stories and Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales to him. As early editions of neither of these books included many illustrations, he seems to have begun to create images to fit the stories in his own head. I remember being read Uncle Remus stories as well, since Jerry and I are only five years apart in age. Joel Chandler Harris's characters came alive through his words. Before Disney homogenized them and colored them with an airbrush, Bre'r Rabbit and Bre'r fox lived a rough and tumble, briar-scratched, tar-stuck life in the imaginations of generations of children like Jerry and me.

While the books usually had colorful covers, I remember mostly black and white line drawings within. Through the magical pencils and watercolors of Pinkney, the marvelous adventures of the sly fox and the trickster rabbit and their friends have gained new life and new color for present and future generations.    

We are fortunate that he has provided this same service for so many classics including many of those my father read to me: The Jungle Book, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Ugly Duckling and The Grasshopper and the Mouse.  A visit to his studio website 
will provide you with a reading list for the next few years. Between classics, stories he has illustrated written by others, and stories he has collaborated on, you have over 100 books, fairy stories, Bible stories and novels to pick from. 

That day I was surveying Caldecott winners, I fell in love with The Lion and the Mouse. If you have a copy, or have read it, I wonder if you realized how totally unique this book is. Did you notice that neither the front nor the back cover have the title of the book or the author's name? The time has come that a Pinkney illustration speaks for it's creator, declaring his authorship loudly and clearly.  The lion on the front cover and the mouse on the back are sufficient to tell any literate human, no matter his or her native language, what treasure of a story lies between those covers.

Among the gems presented to the audience at the Babson Lecture were the following facts and quotes.

  • 1 out of every 3 cowboys in the American West were people of color.
  • His books are based on pure fun and he is less interested in the finished drawing than in the process, and what he learns DOING the drawing. 
  •  In his work, the environment has a voice. His reference collection on science and nature is probably more comprehensive than many public library's.
  • Chipmunks live a purposeful life. 
  • His studio includes different stations for drawing, painting, researching, doing thumbnail sketches.
  •  "Always ask the narrative what the story needs." The illustrator is the bridge between the reader and the narrative. He always asks himself "Why did they pick me to do this book?" This helps to inform him how to go to work on it.  
  • Pinkney always wants to learn from each book he illustrates.
His advice for young people wanting to become illustrators? "Get a sketch book and draw every day!" He says, it's hard work, but it's worth it!

Pinkney's love of nature come out clearly through his work. Although raised in the city, in his youth he periodically spent time in a fairly rural area of New Jersey where a family member had a home adjacent to the woods. That was where he discovered that nature was a safe place for him to go, and that it gave him an opportunity for for personal safety and space, away from a crowded home in very urban Philadelphia.

Through Pinkney's art, I have no doubt that many children are finding that connection with nature which so richly fills the pages of every book he illustrates.

It is refreshing for this hopeful author/illustrator to know that Jerry has recently begun exploring new mediums and combinations, as I have begun exploring illustration. He recently "discovered" pastels and is busy experimenting and looking forward to finding out where this may lead his art.

Perhaps we can look forward to a story about the three chestnuts, with illustrations in pastels to reflect the glossy,  ox-blood treasures that are currently dropping all around us in the autumn landscape, encased in prickly treasure chests. His art can make them last forever. It's time for me now to give the horse-chestnut a try in my sketch book.  Here it is. What do you think?

My art, too is informed by nature. I hope you will visit me at, to see my work as well. I am currently working on a book cover for Flowers of the Holy Land: 50 Blessed Plants in Jesus Life. 

If you visit the current exhibit, "Eric Carle: Animals and Friends" at the Montclair Art Museum, be sure to check out the student illustration exhibit in the hallway on the ground floor. You will see three of my illustrations and many other wonderful products of the Yard School of Art class"Writing and Illustrating Books for Children," taught by Kristine Lombardy.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief reprise of last night's lecture and will leave a comment and explore the links you find here.

Happy illustrating!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Listen to the Pros - Going Back to Art School

Last week was back-to-school week for me. I was a bit nervous, but am now feeling pretty darn fine about making the decision. I was able to sign up for Beginning Illustration at Montclair State University. My classmates are all undergraduates and, I think, all are art majors. Following our first critique yesterday, I am feeling okay. The first assignment was a self portrait that told something about the artist. There was an abundance of anxiety attached to that assignment. I've never been great at drawing faces and was very nervous about doing this, not having a clue what anyone else was capable of.

My portrait illustrates me peeking into a new world of art and illustration. It includes books, drawing pencils and my slightly-off balance jackalope. The exercise was very useful in starting to get a handle on value. It helped me remember that composition is very important, and that I didn't pay enough attention to it the first time around, when I was an undergrad art major.

I am incredibly impressed by the technical skills of several of my classmates. Many of them have a firm grip on design which I hope to emulate. I am learning about value: light and darkness. It is amazing to me how changes in value can change a picture.

The next assignment was to draw an egg, from two different view points and on two different surfaces: one light, one dark. It's very challenging.  I've learned it's a good idea to take photos and turn them into black and white. I never realized before how different color is from value. I am learning a lot. Our professor, Scott Gordley, is giving us interesting assignments and providing useful feedback that helps us all to improve our work.

The egg project is very challenging, because we are responsible for making an interesting composition, as well as creating a technically precise likeness. Looking at eggs with strong lighting is interesting, as you end up with part of the egg being almost black.

I am learning many new ways of changing value. Spots and dots, lines and cross-hatching, shading and contrast. Still work to do on both pictures, but feeling pretty good about them.

While I am excited about what I am learning in my Illustration class, I'm spending a lot of time on other projects as well. Lots of family history things going on. Hopefully in the next month or two I can make time to get back to the writing part of my children's book.

I need to find an agent. If you know someone who works in the arena of children's picture books, please send me names. I'd prefer someone in the New York area if possible. Message me on LinkedIn or email me at

Looking forward to touching base with you again soon, but need to get back to my homework.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Revising Visions and Moving Forward at Last

Almost a year has passed since my last post here. During that time I have been busy, but not so much on the book. Friends and family keep asking "When is your book coming out?' or "How is the book coming?" My response has usually been, "I was totally squashed at a workshop in October when I was told I should take more art classes. I have not worked on it since."

Well, I was. That comment hit me harder than any of the rejection letters I had received to that point. Friends, family, librarians and teachers have all stated how much they LOVE my drawings. As each has been revised, I find it is even better. I still toy with the idea (suggested by many) of self-publishing and making the book the way I visualize it. But a sneaky voice in the back of my mind keeps niggling about the need for more art classes. Sigh! I started as an Art major in college, but switched my sophomore year. I've taken one class at a local museum and have watched a lot of tutorials on You Tube. But still...

This morning, after weeks of trying to contact professors at the local university Art Department, I have received permission to enroll in a Beginning Illustration class. I'm enrolling as a non-degree student through the OLA program at Montclair State University. This means, I will need to pay fees, but no tuition (as an Older Learner). The campus has changed so much since the last class I took there (in around 1970), it might as well be a foreign country. I have scoped out where my class will be, have found the Student Center and bookstore and the Office of Information Technology.  My computer is now hooked in to the university WiFi system and tomorrow morning I can officially register for class.

It's been a long time since I had a First Day of School on the other side of the desk.  I've looked through my sketch pads and found two new ones to start with.  My kneaded eraser is at the ready, as are my colored pencils and pens. I will pick up several pencils of varying hardness at the bookstore tomorrow, when I go up to register. It's been 50 years since I was an art student at a university. My professor for this class probably wasn't even born when I took Color and Design. I'm sure a lot has changed. But I am determined to go into this new adventure with a positive outlook: to learn all that I can. I expect to learn some new techniques and a lot about the design aspect of illustration. From the course description, it sounds as though I will likely be introduced to many illustrators I am unfamiliar with, although I have kept up pretty well with children's book illustrators.

So it's back to school, and back to work on the book. Time to get the studio upstairs cleared up and make room to draw, and maybe paint. If I can find an agent to work with me, maybe I can get the book back on track and get it to a publisher in 2016.

What are your thoughts on this new adventure?