Tucson Festival of Books Recap – Jerry Pinkney


To be in the company of an ultra-talented artist that is willing to share his or her passion with other artists is incredibly inspiring. Now make this artist Jerry Pinkney, with oodles of awards under his belt, including the 2010 Caldecott medal, several Caldecott Honors, several Coretta Scott King Awards, the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, and many , many more, you know that you are in for a very great treat.
For those few of you out there, that do not know who Jerry Pinkney is, his first book came out in 1964 and he is still producing at least one book per year. That is a publishing career of basically fifty years. He actually was a Design major, therefore loves to marry the narrative to his design. The rhythm of his books comes from his design background. His father worked in a pencil factory so they always had plenty of materials at hand to draw with. His parents always encouraged him to draw. He thinks it was to keep him busy and stay out of trouble.
Much of his work is non-fiction because he loves research. He draws a lot of inspiration from his love of research and has a very extensive library at home. He used a toy lion as reference for the Caldecott winning “The Lion and the Mouse.”
Not only could we hear Mr. Pinkney talk about his work, he actually gave a studio demonstration of his technique. Mind blowing to say the least. He says that he does not have a specific technique. He primarily uses watercolors but regards his art as mixed media pieces. When he creates he works towards attaining a certain feeling and therefore uses a variety of techniques to achieve this.
He foremost considers himself a drawer and is in love with the line produced while drawing. When he is away from his sketchbook or drawing too long, he feels off center.The transparency of water colors allows his pencil line to show through. It is interesting to watch him work because he will switch back and forth between painting and drawing, always going back and reinforcing the line. He says that his line gives a sense of clarity to his paintings. Sometimes he will use a wash of gouache intermittently to achieve a softer effect. He will also use white gouache for lightning or snow.
Sorry for my grainy photo taken with my phone, but this is Mr. Pinkney with his palette. He uses a refrigerator tray which he has used for a long time and simply adds paint as needed. Love that!
When he works on a painting he first sketches the image and then streches the paper. This way his sketch stays put. Also, he uses Arches Hot Press paper usually the #140. He likes the smooth surface and always paints wet on dry. Sometimes he will use the #300 weight because it has a little more tooth. The reason he likes water color is that it is difficult to control, which allows you to live in the moment. He loves “happy little accidents.” When he starts a painting he never starts with white and so will begin with a base color, something like Davis Gray. He likes it because it is a soft cool wash. I was surprised that he never works longer that 3 to 4 days on any one painting. Looking at the immense detail of his work, I thought that the time he spent creating these would be much longer. Also, he doesn’t paint larger than 125% of the printed size. Again, really impressive when you consider his incredible detail.
Here is a quick video of how Mr. Pinkney began his demonstration. I find it interesting that he immediately starts drawing the cat with no gesture sketch to start with at all. Impressive!

And here is another quick snippet of Mr. Pinkney painting at the studio demonstration. The paper he was provided with unfortunately did not absorb the paint very well. I still thought that it was really neat to see him in action.

The following video shows Mr. Pinkney talking about his sketchbook. He flipped through it and showed us the thumbnails for his 2010 Caldecott winner “The Lion and The Mouse.”

Just in case you are not familiar with “The Lion and The Mouse,” here is a video I found on YouTube where Mr. Pinkney talks in more detail about his work on the Caldecott winning “The Lion and The Mouse.”

To finish up, here are a couple of Mr. Pinkney’s pearls of wisdom to us:

  • To have your art stand out you want to bring to it what makes you different.
  • You have to inhabit your character in order to give him or her their unique voice.

Mr. Pinkney currently has a traveling exhibit called “Witness.” Check his website for upcoming cities at:
Sorry that this post got to be a little longer than I had intended. As you can see, I was very entralled with what Mr. Pinkney had to share. Hope you enjoyed it.
Happy creating to you all.

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