Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thank you, Irvin Kerlan!

This morning I spent several hours looking, white-gloved, through boxes of original illustrations by some of my favorite children's book illustrators at the Kerlan. Theirs is one of the largest collections of children's book literature and illustrations in the world!

The pieces donated by Richard Scarry were my favorite. I've long admired his hilariously anthropomorphized watercolor-and-ink animals, and was really looking forward to seeing some of his original artwork today. What I found in the Richard Scarry boxes was a real treasure... no photos allowed, but I took mental snapshots of:

a) a "miscellaneous" (i.e. unpublished) painting featuring HUMANS! If you love Richard Scarry, you know that this is extremely rare! And...
b) a number of original, completed illustrations from Busy People. These really show Scarry's process. There were two layers to each image: watercolor on one sheet of paper, with ink line drawings on a transparent overlay. I noticed that he did all of his pencils with non-photo blue pencil. (An hour later, I was in the art supply store buying non-photo blue pencils.) AND...
c) An ink and watercolor book jacket study. It was for Tinker and Tanker out West (1961), a picture book I've yet to come across. The back of the jacket, featuring a few buffalo dressed in traditional Native American dress, had me in stitches. Scarry's mastery of visual gags is just unrivaled, you know?

I also pawed through a ton of Gustaf Tenggren's work. Tenggren was a classic Little Golden Books go-to illustrator during the Golden Age of the LGB.* And man, he did some great books, including The Tawny Scrawny Lion and, most famously, The Poky Little Puppy. Today I got the chance to look through all of the originals for The Poky Little Puppy, and that shit is beautiful! He even gave the Kerlan a few extra illustrations done for the book that didn't make it into the final picture book. I mean, Tenggren just drew that fkg puppy over and over and over and over.

Ooh, I also saw tons of Eric Carle originals! Nothing featuring the famously hungry caterpillar, but many beautiful cut-paper pieces from The Secret Birthday Wish. The back of one of those illustrations was scribbled with notes by Carle about how he'd had to repair the piece because he'd run into some archival issues. "I used to use rubber cement," he wrote, "but I didn't know that " " didn't last." The " " marks were beneath the words "rubber cement," to repeat them. Anyway, it was followed by the illustrator's revised glue recipe, which I can't remember. Something scientific-sounding + a bit of Elmer's glue, I think. Carle also wrote about how he stopped using "tinted" tissue papers, because the tint isn't lightfast, and began using only tissue paper painted with acrylic (which is what I always thought he did anyway).

Next time I visit this collection, I've got to get my hands on the Beatrix Potter collection. Can you imagine?! All of those lovely watercolors! And bunnies in jackets!** Anyway, that part of the collection was in use today. I'd also like to see anything they've got by Felix Darley or Howard Pyle... how'd I forget to request those boxes?

* Tenggren drew for Disney, too! Much like my FAVORITE illustrator ever, Mary Blair, whose work is so expensive and in demand that the Kerlan hasn't been able to acquire any of it. Here's some more of her work, and yet more...
** Incidentally, Richard Scarry was a great admirer of Beatrix Potter. Who isn't, though, I suppose?


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