Sunday, February 5, 2012

Interview with Artist Jerry Pinkney, excerpt, Detroit Free Press

5 questions with artist Jerry Pinkney

February 5, 2012 |

"Escape from Slavery: Underground Railroad" (National Geographic, July 1984) is part of the exhibit "Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney."
"Escape from Slavery: Underground Railroad" (National Geographic, July 1984) is part of the exhibit "Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney." / JERRY PINKNEY

Q: You've been illustrating children's books since 1964. You've won numerous awards, including the 2010 Caldecott Medal for "The Lion and the Mouse." However, growing up, you struggled to overcome dyslexia. Tell me how your gift for drawing helped you cope.

A: I think it gives a balance to my self-esteem, even though I have struggled, and still struggle, in certain areas. It gave me a sense that I was unique and I could do something differently than what other people were doing. Of course in that time -- the 1940s -- the word dyslexia didn't exist. I always got the feeling from my parents that I could achieve in spite (of it). They certainly understood their child was having some struggles within school, but I got more of a sense of encouragement, that if you believed in a dream you could certainly achieve that dream. The driving force was always to feel OK with myself. Not only was I supported by my parents, but also my teachers.

Q: In addition to children's books, you have also illustrated novels. What drives your interest in a story, and what is your process?

A: The biggest part of that is finding the kind of material that in some way connects to an interest or passion or concern that I have about this world we live in. I start out with what I call thumbnail sketches, which are very small, just a quick and direct way to get ideas on paper, and then it grows from there. The bulk of the work is fiction, so there's a tremendous amount of research that supports the visual interpretation. I have 3,000 books in my library. In terms of nature or African-American history studies, my library is much larger than you might find in a small local library. I also use film, toys, whatever can give me a platform to work from.

Q: Do you have a favorite artist?

A: No, I don't. There are just so many. Right now I'm interested in the Ashcan School of painting and (artist) John Sloan simply because that's where I am at this point in my career. But who knows, it might be a point where red becomes important in a work, and then I might look at Matisse. I let all of that sort of help fuel what I'm working on.

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