I was a strange kid...or so I thought at the time. When I look at childhood photographs I appear to be perfectly normal. But like most kids, I wasn’t normal in my own mind. Sure, I played baseball, tried to avoid homework, couldn’t pass up a frog without picking it up, and made pictures. All kids draw, but at some point I began to make pictures that told stories. And as the stories grew more involved I began to live more and more in the strange and wonderful world of the imagination.
I know that I began drawing as a way of better understanding the world around me.
When I encountered something strange and interesting I discovered that I could get closer to it, know more about the thing, by looking deliberately and carefully. That meant drawing a picture. That’s what drawing is — deep, careful, attentive seeing.
Sad to say I was not a big reader as a boy. I saw the world in images. I
knew what a tree looked like before I knew it was called, “tree,” and so the little squiggles and lines that make up the symbolic language of writing were never as interesting to my young mind as pictures. When I imagine stories they are always a sequence of pictures. I think I’ve always imagined this way — and I think most children also think this way.
My first drawings were something like stories. Little worlds populated by stick-figures on lined notebook paper. The stories were about me, my family, my pets, and usually dinosaurs. It didn’t always end well.
I learned by copying. Mostly, I copied comics. Peanuts, Krazy Kat and Pogo at first,
then later DC Comics like Superman and The Justice League of America. I drew all of the time, looked at lots of other peoples artwork, copied some more, practiced and improved by doing
As a teenager I discovered Robert McCloskey, Wanda Gag, Virgina Lee Burton and Maurice Sendak. I still read and drew comics and all this led to fantasy novels-- my first chapter books. I read Edgar Rice Burroughs (all 24 of the Tarzan novels, even Tarzan and the Ant Men). Also, Robert Howard, Susan Cooper, Lin Carter, Madeleine L’Engle and Jules Verne. These books showed me the power of story told with the written word. Another strange and wonderful world. As I’ve grown I have learned the power of both pictures and words. And I’m still learning how they work together.
I began to tell stories with pictures and words. In high school I wrote long illustrated letters to my friends. I made a illustrated newsletter when I was away at college in Arizona.
And then after college I had a chance to teach kids. I taught at a summer arts school called Belvior Terrace in Lenox, Ma. I taught 7–17 year old girls drawing and printmaking. where I first met my audience and experienced their delight and hunger for pictures and stories. I made my first book, Time Flies.
My favorite part of the bookmaking process is the beginning: exploring, doodling, daydreaming, discovering. This is when ideas come alive, when thoughts are put to paper and made tangible. At first I only have an inkling of what I want the finished book to look like and I’ll put those first rudimentary ideas down in pencil sketches.
Then I write, then a few more pictures informed by the words. Then more writing ... more pictures ... words ... pictures ... more words, until the story starts to find
it’s way. From there I can see my choices and move ahead.
I make books I want to see that haven’t been made yet. I have some experience with kids (I was one once and have the photos to prove it) but I’ve been blessed that once in a while kids appear to like my books. In the end I make books for kids because they are the best audience: children are curious, enthusiastic, impulsive, generous and pleased by simple joys. They laugh easily t the ridicules and are willing believe the absurd. Children are not ironic, disillusioned or indifferent, but hopeful, open-minded and openhearted, with a voracious hunger for pictures.
So this is what I do now and hope to do for as long as I live.
Now back to the studio — a little room where I make my books — a simple ordinary
place that I hope to make extraordinary things. Strange how that sometimes happens. Maybe strange beginnings work out in the end.