Monday, April 19, 2010


One of my favorite illustrators in the world is Richard Scarry. I grew up in Germany where I very vividly remember the Richard Scarry Word book (in german of course) and the thing I always loved the most about it was the amount of fun stuff to look at on a single page! Richard Scarry was the master at filling up pages to make every one seem amazingly exciting to view and peruse over even if you weren't looking at the story at all. Like in his word book, the thing that makes them so great is that for a lot of them, you the viewer get to decide where you want to go on the page. ... there usually is no center piece.. the same concept as Jacque Tati's movies in a way... you get to decide what you want to watch, what to pay attention to... all parts are equally funny and important...
Here is parts of a pretty good summary of Richard Scarry's life and doings that I found. If you want to read the whole thing, which you might want to should you be a Scarry fan do check it out, but the things below here are some of the things I found very insightful.
This part (if true) strikes me as great, because it really showcases that Scarry was a very funny man not only when it came to writing and illustrating books.

Richard Scarry
It was in this neighborhood that he met a particularly charming young lass by the name of Patsy Murphy, who would later become his one and only wife. His days of womanizing were over, and he proposed to her efficiently, by telegram:'


'If you can call that a proposal. Patsy and Richard were married September 11, 1948, and so intent was he on becoming a competent artist that his personality began to change. He grew quiet and withdrawn, and he wasn't much of a talker. Meanwhile, Patsy was outgoing, a drinker, a smoker - very extroverted and gregarious. She loved entertaining, she loved people and parties. It was a perfect arrangement; Patsy guided him through tedious social engagements, often acting as a buffer between him and his publisher. '

'Scarry was turning into a disciplined worker, rising shortly before eight each morning, and drawing in his studio until four in the afternoon. An hour break for lunch. Patsy wasn't allowed to talk to him during this time; she simply set a ham sandwich and pickles on his desk and went back downstairs.'

Interesting because it once again goes to show that for so many artists there is always a significant other who is less well known, who is partially responsible for their success. The unsung heros. His wife who could in a way be seen as his agent. Also very interesting is Scarry's discipline regarding his work. According to this information he worked about 6-7 uninterrupted hours a day. And concentration was obviously needed seeing as his wife Patsy was not to talk to him during this time. This really rings true to me. Once you're in a creative zone it's important to no be disturbed - other wise it may take some time to get back into it, - you might loose your train of thought- etc...

'He had a secret plan to develop a new kind of dictionary which arranged words by categories instead of the alphabet. This format would allow him to draw over fourteen hundred solo panels of slapstick anthropomorphic behavior, introduce lots of new characters, and write short amusing texts for each category. The result was Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever, hardbound at 10.5 x 11.7 inches in oversized format. It truly dwarfed all others, selling seven million copies in only a few short years. The Scarry genius had broken loose.'
This shows that Scarry knew what he was good at: ie: creating characters (character development) and slapstick via images. Also by giving himself small categories instead of long plots he could have a great time drawing and keep it fresh by being able to pick his subjects as he pleased more or less? - Acknowledge your strengths and build a project around them!

He didn't write stories, he drew them in pencil on frosted acetate. Then he painted through the entire stack color by color. First he'd colorize everything meant to be red, then blue, yellow, and so forth. He'd do all the pigs, then all the cats, then all the dogs. He preferred a bright, simple palette of Winsor & Newton Designers Colors: Flame Red, Carthamus Pink, Cadmium Orange and Primrose, Golden Yellow, Linden Green, Permanent Green Middle and Deep, Winsor Green, Sky Blue, Winsor Blue, Burnt Sienna, Raw and Burnt Umber, Chinese Orange, and Spektrum Violet.
Yup, that's right, no photoshop yet! How about that... would be cool to learn more about how things were printed back then... hm....

When the blueboards and pencil sketches were finished, he juxtaposed alongside them blocks of text affixed with Scotch tape meant to carry readers along through a loose narrative. He punched his ideas out on an old portable typewriter, usually by way of the hunt-and-peck method, and many of these paper scraps contained typos, spelling and syntax errors - even poor grammar. But an editor could fix that up. Being smarty-smart all the time wasn't necessary for a guy who hated school. Richard Scarry was a slapstick make-'em-laugh funny man first, an "educator" second. His singular purpose: entertain the kids. Be funny without being stupid. Don't do it in a way they've seen a million times before. And whatever the cost, don't be boring.
He hated white space deliberately filling up each page with as much pictorial matter as possible. By doing so, young readers would want to scan the books over and over, possibly finding something new with each reading. Exploded views and simplified cut-away diagrams became commonplace throughout his work. Editors noticed that Scarry's "children's books" were becoming more complicated - his illustrations had grown so dense that even a single page required endless hours of fact-checking and research. Scarry's personal library (and by proxy, that of his editors) contained encyclopedias, travel books, cardboard boxes filled with pictures torn from old magazines, restaurant menus, vacation snapshots from every corner of the globe during his military travels, and rubber-banded rolls of architectural diagrams. He would outdo himself time and time again, from What Do People Do All Day to Richard Scarry's Great Big Schoolhouse. At this stage of the game, his advances were upwards of $105,000.

One day some of these sketches were sitting on Scarry's editor's desk, and Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) unexpectedly strolled into the office. Dr. Seuss wandered over to the table and began idly leafing through Scarry's preliminary drawings. He didn't ask whose work it was. Seuss and Scarry were two very different men. Seuss worked primarily with words, Scarry with pictures. Suddenly Seuss stopped flipping and asked, "Does this sort of thing sell?" It sold very well indeed. In fact, Richard Scarry's books had been outselling Seuss's for years. But neither author would ever really know that, due to the "good diplomacy" management style strictly upheld at Random House.

To Richard, pigs, cats, bears, hippos, giraffes, lions and so forth were not animals. They were real people living normal lives, performing everyday tasks like. He made every effort to completely subtract elements of delineated racial characteristics, believing that even a simple illustration of a girl with blonde hair could not be fully related to by a girl with dark hair. But both girls might relate and respond to bunny rabbits.

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