Lenox Students Meet Award-Winning Illustrator

By Nichole Dupont, iBerkshires Staff
Thursday, December 23, 2010

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Inspiration comes from many places. For artist Jerry Pinkney, much of his came from jazz and visits to the countryside as a child.

Jerry Pinkney and students. Photo by Nichole Dupont.

Jerry Pinkney talks art and inspiration to Lenox Middle School art students at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Photo by Nichole Dupont.

The Caldecott-winning illustrator shared the secret of his inspirations with nearly 40 art students from Lenox Middle School on Wednesday at the Norman Rockwell Museum. The museum is showing a retrospective of his work and later that afternoon held a party to mark the Philadelphia native’s 71st birthday.

Surrounded by dozens of his brightly-colored, painstakingly detailed illustrations, Pinkney painted a picture of his half-century journey as a beloved American illustrator.

“I showed an interest in drawing very early. I got support from my parents and teachers,” he said to the students. “But when I got to be about your age, at Roosevelt Junior High, there was no art. I am dyslexic and so I really struggled to find that place where I carved my strength from. So, I joined the school orchestra.”

Although playing music was not exactly drawing, Pinkney thrived on the attention that being in the band brought him.

“I had a lot of solos. I wanted to be out front,” he said. “I loved jazz, especially jazz trumpet. I wanted to be cool like Miles Davis; I still want to be cool. It’s about trying to find that part of yourself that needs a voice; it could be art or sports or history. Most of you have some sort of calling or interest. If you follow that dream, there is the potential of arriving at success.”

Pinkney stressed to the students that his success was the result of many elements; support, talent and most importantly years and years of hard work and vision as he continuously meets up with creative challenges.

“The key is hard work, hard work, hard work,” he said. “I often have to re-imagine a fairytale and make it somehow different. I love the idea of solving problems, that’s why I love the idea of books and making multiples of things.”

Pinkney said it takes him on average six to nine months to complete illustrations for a 40-page book but that some require more work than others. According to his wife, children’s book writer Gloria Jean, who also spoke to the students, much of the work that goes into the illustration process is focused on “experiencing things.”
“Jerry has a huge library of reference books and films that he watches,” she said. “Because he can’t always travel to these places that he is writing about but he can go there through books.”

Student and aspiring artist Alice Huth said that she appreciated Pinkney’s message of inspiration and hard work.

“It’s really good to hear from a person, from an artist who has experienced the whole thing,” she said. “He’s truly great at what he does.”

Huth’s classmate and fellow artist Jaclynn Hathaway took to heart the idea of personal experience as a medium for art.

“I always draw based on what I have experienced and what I’ve seen,” she said. “I know that a lot of his work is in children’s books but even at my age I can appreciate how beautiful the work is. Besides, we were all children once.”

“Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney” will be on display at the museum through May 30, 2011. For more information visit www.nrm.org or www.jerrypinkneystudio.com.


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