So You Want to Be a Great Children’s Illustrator
David Small is an award-winning American author and illustrator of over 40 books for children. A Detroit, Michigan native, he graduated with an MFA from the Yale School of Art and published his first illustrated book in 1981. His illustrations for "The Gardener" (written by his wife, Sarah Stewart) received a Caldecott Honor in 1997, while his work on “So, You Want To Be President?” (by Judith St. George) earned him the coveted Caldecott Medal for children's illustration in 2001. His widely acclaimed 2009 memoir, "Stitches," was nominated for a National Book Award in Young People's Literature. Small's work has also appeared regularly in The New Yorker and The New York Times, among other publications. He and his wife live in southwest Michigan.
Question: What is an illustrator’s basic toolkit?
David Small: Hmm. That's a good question. I haven't been asked that one. But relating back to Stitches a little bit, people ask me frequently why I chose to do it in black and white. And that would be my first answer to your question about art materials: that first of all, I think drawing is really the basis of all art, even sculpture, film. The greatest filmmakers have always been able to at least roughly sketch out their ideas in storyboards. And black and white in particular is a good place to start. I stayed with black and white charcoal drawings for years and years and years, maybe—I think I was maybe 38. I started the serious study of art when I was 21. When I was 38 and did my first picture book, I had to start thinking about color. And that's when I found that that whole basis of working in black and white and grays became the basis of my understanding of color, because it's all about tone, it's all about light and dark. If you don't get that, then your color work is going to be a mess. So that's the beginning of the toolkit: drawing and black and white media. In terms of surprises, I'm always surprised by the things that come to me through literature. I think it's really important for any artist to expand themselves in some other area. You know, I've taught—I used to teach on a college level, and I've taught in schools where kids just wanted to be artists, and I used to be furious with them if they didn't read, because they just seemed so—their education seemed so thin if all they could do was pick up a paint-loaded brush and fling it at a canvas. I mean, there was nothing to express there, except maybe their own personal feelings. But if they're not—if they don't have a grounding in the way these things have been expressed by other people down through the centuries, then they're lost. They're pretty much—you know, they're reinventing wheels that don't need to be invented any more. Things come to me through literature and also my study of film that are constantly surprising and enriching for me. So I'm not talking so much about artistic tools as I am about things that come out of the air.
Question: What advice would you give someone writing or drawing for children?
David Small: Do what you feel like, you know, what you think is right. That would be my—I don't have any theories about it, you know. I just—and I actually, even though I have this solid career in picture books, I've not only been thinking about kids—because I don't think that much about children; I'm not a child educator; I'm just a former child. And I know what I would have been enchanted by or interested in as a kid, so even when some art directors early on in my career would say, oh, no, no, no, no, no, you can't draw that way; that's much too loose for kids to understand; well, all that's been proven as bunk, because people like Jules Feiffer are doing things for kids. And you know, Feiffer is the Daumier of our age; his stuff is just so loose and wiggly and, you know, looks like it's out of control although there's perfect control behind it. And kids love that stuff; they eat it up. Or Quentin Blake is another guy that—the guy who illustrates Dahl's stories—Roald Dahl's stories, not doll stories.
I've always been interested in a certain kind of sophistication in children's literature. I loved Roald Dahl; I loved the underlying nastiness of some of his—darkness of his tales. I loved a guy named Tomi Ungerer. You know, early Sendak things. And as a father—you know, that's what kind of got me into making this stuff is that I used to have to read some of this swill to my children 50 times a week, and while the kids actually seemed to be interested in certain books, they were putting me to sleep. But then when I'd get my hands on a Roald Dahl novel, suddenly I was able to invest my reading with some energy and, you know, real interest of my own and come to bedtime with real eagerness. And so there was a sharing between the kids and me. And that was the kind of books that I wanted to write and draw myself, the books that kind of straddled that fence between what would entertain a child and what would entertain parents too. I wrote a book called Imogene's Antlers, which I think is a good example of a book that kids and their parents enjoy. But I realize now that I sort of participated in a history of sophistication that—over-sophistication in children's literature: too much irony, too much sarcasm, too many jokes that the kids got left out of. There was a whole spate of picture books coming out for years and years and years where it was quite evident to me that it was the parents who were buying these books—it wasn't the kids who were choosing them—and that the parents had—they had sort of preempted—is that the word?—co-opted bedtime for themselves instead of—I mean, the worst thing I can think of is making a book where—I have this vision of a dad sitting on a bed with his daughter or his son and laughing his ass off, and the kid's sitting there just totally left out of the joke. And also the parent not being able to explain why it's funny—that's bad. And that's what's—that's what I try to do in my picture books, is to be all-inclusive, but not exclusive, to not exclude the kid and not exclude the parents from the experience. And it's not a very easy task; you can't find stories that work that way too much of the time.
Recorded on November 18, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
You’ll need a serious technical grounding in art, but more importantly, an instinct for avoiding "over-sophistication."
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
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With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
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The unmatched biologist-reporter Tomasz Sitarz interviews his fungal namesake, maślak sitarz – known in English as the Jersey cow mushroom.