I had the pleasure of hearing picture book author and illustrator Pat Cummings speak at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art on Saturday. In her series of books, Talking with Artists, she asks creators for pictures of drawings or sculptures they did as children, as well as the work that brought them fame, so that children can see one starts at one place and ends up at another. Pat structured her talk this way, too, talking about her first attempts at making art, and a ballerina and glitter obsession. Family is a big theme in her work, and her talk included not only stories from childhood, but recent conversations with her husband and mother. She collaborated on Talking with Adventurers with her sister, who’s a scientist, and was also the model for the mother in one of her early books, Just Us Women by Jeannette Caines. Books such as Jimmy Lee Did It and Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon were inspired by her little brother. Or maybe that rascally brother is just part of her: here’s me with Pat, unable to resist rabbit ears, after her talk.
She said that she likes the freedom that picture book creators have to change styles, and she enjoys working in mixed media on books such as C.L.O.U.D.S., which is about an angel who designs the sky, and Carousel, about a girl’s fantasy. Humor was a big part of her talk, though she took a serious tone when stating her belief that all kids should see themselves in books, that no one should feel excluded. And the theme of connecting with other artists was strong. She thanked Tom Feelings for helping her get started on her first picture book, and she’s made sure she helps others in turn. Her talk often turned to other artists for children’s books she admires, such as Brian Selznick and Lane Smith. She said, “Every artist inspires me,” explaining not in the sense that she sees their art and can do something like it, but “the kind of inspiration when at three in the morning you can’t get the nose right, and you think. ‘what would and Leo and Diane Dillon do?’ They’d keep going.”
Her dedication to community is evident in her teaching at Pratt, Parsons School of Design, and a Children’s Book Boot Camp she runs in summer. And she left the riveted audience with inspiring words. “A lot of people tell themselves no. If you have a story to tell or art you want to do, do it. There’s a lot of joy just in creating.”