I am just returned from an intensely inspiring conference at the Mazza Museum, an oasis of beauty and innocence in northwestern Ohio of all places. If you are anywhere near Findlay, Ohio and have an interest in or love of children’s picture books, I highly recommend a visit. The weekend conference seemed to be geared toward teachers and librarians, the very folks who use and champion the work of people who make illustrated books for kids (in whose ranks I will be one day!!) There were also a couple of us art folks lurking in the audience as well of course but it was really wonderful to meet such lovely educators and book enthusiasts.
We heard from David Wiesner who spoke eloquently about “worlds within worlds within worlds”. He signed not only the book I picked up for my nephew, but also my sketch book. I consider this inspiring glitter to have been bestowed upon my lowly book.
Next day we heard about “sharing the truth of the world”, “clinging to a raft in a sea of doubt”, and how publishing a book is like an electrical impulse going pole to pole to pole from author Tony Abbot. He also discussed the tremendous responsibility behind the notion of telling a good story, whether through words, pictures, or both.
“Children are a much more important audience than adults.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson
Sergio Ruzzier talked of his love of picture books as a child when the ones with too many words proved overwhelming. I am anxious to try out pen and ink in a new way after his demonstration and talk. His books are beautiful, and his lecture was really entertaining.
Brian Biggs’ series Tinytown books (among stacks of many he’s made) are all about “creating a world I want to live in.” Amen.
Nikki McClure had me in tears during her speech, as I have been on the verge of tears ever since the election and all that has gone with it. She was honest and vulnerable in her talk as she too spoke of deep grief over the meaning of recent events. They are not trivial and are not politics as usual. She spoke straight to my heart.
“Make. Learn. Speak.”
“Books are a place of calm and centering.”
“Trust the child.”
“Draw. Draw. Draw. Thinking comes later.”
“Books should have food in them.”
“Use color to tell the story.”
“All you need is a pencil. All you need is a dream.” (in which I am, once again, weeping.)
Dan Santat finished off the conference, exhausted from what seems like a grueling touring schedule, with an inspiring talk about his own work and the trajectory it’s taken. He talked of embracing boredom, and being comfortable in your own skin as an artist. That is where one can find one’s individual style. I shared with him this sweet image of my good friend Alice who is a huge fan of Beekle.
All in all, it was just what my gentle heart needed after this past week. I had to drive through the heart of Trump-ville to get there but it was worth it. And I cried some more on the way home, allowing my grief to flow, although I know the conservatives who voted for our new President-Elect just don’t understand this depth of sadness and are asking us to get over it and stop being such crybabies.
Well here’s the thing. Perhaps it’s this election and all of the vitriol involved. Perhaps it’s the essence of middle age. But I am done being told, in ways subtle as well as straight up obvious, how to feel. About anything. To be an artist, in my truly humble opinion, is to have an open heart. To feel deeply whatever it is I am feeling. There is really no other way to our best work. And so I weep.
The Mazza conference was just the shot in the arm I needed just now. I feel recommitted to getting my stories and pictures out to publishers and eventually into the hands of teachers and librarians and children themselves. I had spent the days before this conference wondering how to move forward from here in a country so hell bent on moving backward in time. We had come so far and yet now, we tilt back into a time of rekindled hatred and distrust. It is heartbreaking.
So the pressure is on now, to give love a chance. I leave you here with some Bowie and Queen. In hope. Under Pressure.
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give loveBecause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves