Thursday, January 2, 2014

Slow and Steady

Jerry Pinkney, flanked by editor Andrea Spooner (l.), and art director Patti Ann Harris.

In his author's note for The Tortoise and the Hare, Jerry Pinkney describes how he took to heart the moral of this tale as a schoolboy, struggling to learn with dyslexia. He also sees its wisdom today, as we move at an ever-faster rate with the aid of technology. "As the pace of our lives continues to speed up, many yearn for a less hurried approach to life," Pinkney observes. "The tortoise proves that it can be wise to have a goal, but one should relish the process of getting there."

Like his Caldecott Medal–winning The Lion and the Mouse, Pinkney thought The Tortoise and the Hare would be wordless, but he wanted the process to be organic. As he considered the moral of the story, he thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting if the moral unfolded on the spreads with the tortoise?" He started working out the dummy and, using the moral as a cumulative text, discovered that it corresponded perfectly with the spreads featuring the tortoise.

The artist described his process at a Society of Illustrators event last month on December 9. He uses marker to draw on vellum, then places the drawing on a light box, and watercolor paper over that. This way, he can keep developing the drawing (in pencil), tracing over the marker, and use watercolors on the final drawing. Pinkney passed around his childhood copy of Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, which has inspired several of his most beloved picture books.

Pinkney's entire career is a testament to the rewards of staying one's course. As a boy of 12, in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pinkney sold papers at a corner newsstand--an ideal vantage point for a budding sketch artist. His drawings caught the attention of fellow Philadelphian John Liney, cartoonist on the comic strip Henry. At a time when no one in his family was an artist, the young Pinkney was invited to visit Liney's studio, and the cartoonist introduced him to the concept of "the usefulness of art," as Pinkney put it, in a recent presentation in his publisher's offices.

This past summer in his hometown, June 26 was named Jerry Pinkney Day and kicked off an exhibition of the artist's work. In 158 years of the Philadelphia Museum's history, its exhibition of Pinkney's work was the first devoted to a children's book illustrator. Now that's a winner!

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