Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Future Storybook Illustrator

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. ~Richard Steele, Tatler, 1710
I definitely need to do more of both.

On a Fall day each year, my husband, daughter, and I spend the day at the National Book Festival in Washington DC. We've done it every year since the event began in 2002.

When my daughter was a toddler and preschooler, it was more about snapping a photo of her with Clifford the Big Red Dog of PBS fame than it was hearing authors discuss their work. It was different this time as we sat down to listen to Charles Santore talk about his work and career.

He has a long and impressive life which, for the purposes of this post, began at the age of 4 with his first art set, many masterpieces on the refrigerator, a full scholarship to art school, a career in advertising and magazine illustration, all before becoming what he is best known for, a storybook illustrator. What was interesting, and incredibly eye opening for me was learning that what he does is more than just painting pictures to go along with someone else's words (though I'm sure there are illustrators that work that way); the artwork tells a story all it's own. His latest work is for the reprinting of L. Frank Baum's book "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" (which we waited in line to buy before waiting in line to have signed), but it was his work on another Baum book "The Wizard of Oz" that was so interesting to me. He said it took three years for him to complete the illustrations for "The Wizard of Oz". Three Years!

The first year, he sketched and "lived" with the characters. The second year he edited, because as he puts it, "by the time I got to the end of the book, the characters had changed from the drawings at the beginning". The third year, he painted and fine-tuned. Three Years for 1 book! And if you haven't seen it, it's beautiful!

My daughter loves to read and she loves to draw. If you asked her what she wants to be when she grows up, she would immediately say "an artist". So it was no real surprise to me, that when the question was posed to Mr. Santore "what advice would you give children who love your books" and he replied "Read, Read, Read and Draw, Draw, Draw" that my daughter's face lit up. It was as if a lightbulb clicked on... "I could be a storybook illustrator" was the expression on her face.

Yes sweetie! You absolutely can. And Mommy will be the first one in line to buy your book... make sure it's dedicated to me ;-).

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