I thought I was ready to write something about art today, but I was wrong. I looked through a dozen “inspiring” quotes on the subject and not a single one of them inspired me. They mostly sounded dry and dusty, clichés from the past without connection to the present much less the future. Or smug.
Perhaps I am in the art doldrums because I have been busy with the upcoming move and have not painted a thing for the past few weeks. Now, my art table and easel are gone, my painting supplies are in boxes in my new home, well away from where I am at the moment.
The joy of painting has become the angst of not painting.
So, in the holiday spirit with so many things happening all at once or within seconds of each other, I’m turning to thoughts of kids and fun and that takes my artist’s mind straight to children’s books and the wonderful artists who illustrate them.
I took a class a few years ago in illustrating children’s books from the wonderful Dana Sullivan and I loved it. Dana is not only a creative illustrator, he’s a gifted teacher.
I spent hours at the big library in my city not in the grown-up and very serious stacks but in the children’s section. I sat on little wooden chairs and browsed the latest, the oldest, the best known, the popular new work and enjoyed every minute of it, even when the real kids in the library stared at the lady on the little wooden chair.
Illustrating children’s picture books is an art in itself to say the least. For one thing, there’s the standard page count to think about. For another, even children’s books have the “page-turner” factor. For yet another, the artist has to see things through the eyes of say a three or four or five-year old and still create something that will not bore a parent to tears by the hundredth read.
Children’s books are a dance between the writer and the artist.
One of my favorites that year was a book titled 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore. The author is Jenny Offill and the illustrator is Nancy Carpenter. Between them they created one of the funniest picture books in a long time. No parent will get bored with this one.
Seventeen things like not allowed to glue her brother’s slippers to the floor or staple his hair to the pillow or show her underpants to Joey Whipple. The seventeen things will keep you and any children in range laughing, but you don’t have to have kids around to buy children’s books. Some wonderful art is happening in the world of kids.
It’s not all about Picasso and Banksy and Warhol, you know. And there’s nothing smug about it.