What I Did On My Summer Vacation

After a lot of self-help reading and medication, a couple of weeks ago I crawled into a plane and flew to Massachusetts for a friend's wedding. I had never been to the East Coast before, and was looking forward to poking around to see what New England had to offer (besides clam chowder). In general, I was taken aback by the beautiful Berkshires, all the old colleges in the quaint towns, and the plethora of vegetarian options at the restaurants. There were two museums, however, that totally converted me to Masslumism.

The  Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge features an incredible section of the Massachusetts native's oeuvre. All of the Four Freedoms were on display, along with other classic works like "The Problem We All Live With" and "The Golden Rule."

Being able to get up close and see the textures and brush strokes on Rockwell's huge canvases was only worth the price of admission. But they were also running an exhibition of William Steig's magazine and kidlit output. Everything from Shrek! originals to his New Yorker cartoons and covers filled the two galleries, along with dummy book manuscripts and collage art pieces from his wife.

As if that wasn't enough for one state, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst has an incredible collection of children's book art from the likes of Leonard Wiesgard, Leo Lionni, and Eric Carle himself (just to name a few currently on display). Moreover, the day we arrived they were opening an exhibit of the Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning artist Lisbeth Zwerger, who ranks at the top of my favorite living illustrators.

Getting to meet Zwerger was itself a thrill, but seeing her pieces in real life was one of the most inspiring experiences in my life. Unlike Rockwell, Zwerger's pieces start tiny and are blown up for publication, allowing the slight pencil marks, brush strokes and paper stock to  gain additional texture and weight in print. As an illustrator who always wants a vice-tight grip on my linework and color, her loose renderings and messy watercolors challenged me to continue to branch out in my own work.

Hence the painting above. I did it very small, on a far coarser paper than I usually use, and did my best to keep the color loose. I also focused on rending in ink only those aspects that absolutely had to be, and leaving the rest for watercolor. Full disclosure: the idea was my wife's. I personally find the concept of a mouse playing violin to be repugnant. They're far more suited to the oboe.

Anyway, for anyone interested in beautiful views, great architecture, good food, fantastic museums, and American and literary history, I'd recommend a trip to Massachusetts. And if you're interested in gold chains and sleeveless sports jerseys with the pastiest arms imaginable sticking out of them, you'll love Boston.


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