Where The Children's Art Is

If you happen to be driving through central Ohio, and especially if your into children's book art,  a stop at the Mazza Museum at the University of Findlay is a must. For me, Findlay, Ohio feels like something a picture book illustrator might dream up to represent the ideal of small town America. So it seems appropriate that Findlay is home to a museum dedicated to the art of picture book making. This summer I tagged along with Renata for a presentation she did at Mazza during their summer conference. 

Mazza has a collection of more than 11,000 original works of children's book art so there's a lot to be inspired by. Looking back at the handful of photos I took from the museum it's interesting to see which ones I sacrificed some of my limited memory space and battery charge on. There is more, much more, that goes into a picture than what sits in a frame or is printed in a book and so I was particularly excited about Mazza's focus on the process of making picture books. 

In particular I took a lot of photos of an exhibit on making paper engineered books ( above images 1-3) which displayed the comprehensive process of mocking up a pop up book. I had never considered the amount of craft, thought, and testing that goes into engineering a pop up page. Another exhibit, showing the process of developing the book "In New York" by Marc Brown (above image 4) gave a behind the scenes look at the unique approach of this artist. His use of photocopies to adjust compositions is great. I wish I'd written down the name of the artist that drew the amazing alligator (or is it a crocodile?) above. It and another sketch featuring Paddington Bear by Fred Banbery emphasized the rigour and care taken into the process of bringing an illustration to life. (above images 5,6) 


I've noticed a resurgence of interest in using gouache by contemporary illustrators so it was interesting to see how old school masters such as Richard Scarry 'mastered' the medium (above images) which reinforced for me the saying "everything old is new again", I can see a lot of what is happening in these old school illustrations echoing down into current illustrators work. The museum got me thinking about what books I fancied as a kid and I realized I really wasn't into picture books as a kid! But one that I do remember reading was Clifford by Norman Bridwell (below image 1). It was cool to see his process of painting the backgrounds separately on a piece of watercolor paper and the foreground line work and flat colors on film such as might be done in cell animation. I also love the line work created by regularly alternating the pressure on the brush.


I could go on and on about our experience at the museum, there were so many pictures like this one by Art Seiden (above image 2) that surprised and delighted me. And I am pretty excited about the idea that someone in future might have the same thoughts and feelings seeing the original drawing from "Red Wagon" that Renata donated (above image 3).  The Mazza museum was so great that the main reason for our trip, the conference might seem like a footnote. But the amazing artists that Renata had the privilege to present alongside were more than just the icing on the cake.

 Renata was super excited to meet cake artist/illustrator Akiko White and equally disappointed that we had to leave before her presentation. But getting a chance to meet her in person, attendees would have been treated to a wonderful presentation. Continuing the theme of looking behind the scenes of the creative process, writer Marc Tyler Nobleman had some eye opening reveals about the creation of iconic comic book characters Batman and Superman. His emphasis on the importance of research was – super. And he's an engaging speaker (above image 1).

Having worked as an illustrator for more than a little while, I've learned one of the biggest challenges of being an illustrator is staying relevant. I asked Jane Dyer an illustrator of more than 50 books, how she's kept her career healthy, and interestingly her response was : that she is reliable and easy to work with! Left unspoken was the great work she does (above image 2) . Likewise speaker Barbara McClintock's immaculate ink and watercolours have a timeless relevancy. Her latest books, "Lost and Found" and "The Five Forms" (above image 3) shows so much attention to detail and virtuosity that it's hard for me to imagine how she does it. 

We're fans of Brian Lies from way back and his presentation (above image 1) emphasized the careful consideration and attention he puts in creating every single page and every single bat that is on each page – and some pages have a heck of a lot of bats!  Jeffrey Ebbeler's presentation (above image 2) showcased his varied and prolific career and highlighted the importance of persistence and hard work - and it's rewards. One of the most interesting presentations was relative newcomer Drew Daywalt. Within minutes of meeting him in person I could see why he is one of the top new talents in children's book literature – he's damn funny (above image 3). Finally, we also missed the final talk presented by Matt Phelon but I was lucky to discuss a tiny bit about the children's graphic novel movement he has a foot in. I've heard a lot of interest by comic artists and newcomers in this burgeoning market and it was interesting to hear that Matt didn't necessarily come into it from a comic book background.

Of course none of these unique experiences would have been possible but for the hard work and commitment to children's book medium of the great people at Mazza Museum led by Ben Sapp –thank you! And last but not least, we want to mention and thank the wonderful attendees – the librarians who are the keepers and protectors of the wonderful world of children's books (and are a super audience!)