Monday, May 28, 2012


If the artist is going to infuse his art with the mood of a manuscript, he needs keys that will allow him to enter into that mood, regularly and predictably, throughout the time he is working on the illustrations.
I depend on multiple vehicles to revisit a manuscript's mood.  When I returned from an on-site research trip to northern Maine for the book Spuds, by Karen Hesse, one of the things I brought home with me was a huge bag of freshly-dug Maine potatoes.  I dined on those potatoes regularly---mashed, boiled, baked---throughout the time I was creating the art for the book.  Some of them, raw and still speckled with dirt, I kept in a bowl next to my drawing board.  Each time I looked at, smelled, or cooked those earthy potatoes, I was once again strolling over the high, wide, wind-swept expanse of the book's landscape.
I couldn't visit an actual landscape when I was illustrating The Cats In Krasinski Square, by Karen Hesse---the Warsaw of the book had been destroyed during WWII.  But I watched many times the film "The Pianist", which was set in the same place and era as the book.  The movie enabled me to walk the streets and experience the atmosphere of the times, and above all to feel physically the mood of Cats.  I also listened endlessly to my CD of piano music---Chopin, Schumann, Schubert.  I'm not sure, even now, how and why this worked; but as soon as I pressed the "on" button at the beginning of each workday, that music transported me instantly to the world of the book's brave heroine.
As for staying in the mood for my own title, Little Brown Bear---in my absorption, I  (and my two young children) ate with the bears' wooden bowls and spoons; dried dishes with their red-and-white towels; poured water out of their pitcher; stored belongings on their breakfront.  I literally lived the bears' lives.  I was probably never OUT of the mood the entire time I was creating the art for that book. 
A musical recording, a fragrant leaf, a swatch of coarse fabric, a crunchy cookie, a piece of furniture, a dance step---each artist chooses her own keys, whatever will open the door for her to the mood of the manuscript she is illustrating.  So that as she creates, she is always absorbing mood through her skin, and releasing mood through her fingers onto the paper.  She is imbuing her art with emotion---with life.


  1. Once again, so eloquently put. I especially love the books you've highlighted, too. xx

  2. i love this post. writers need such keys also. i wonder if all creators use keys.

  3. Ohhh Wendy, you are such an amazing writer.