Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mary Azarian, Children's Book Illustrator and More!

Mary Azarian is an artist whose work I have admired for over twenty years. I first stumbled upon it in Middlebury, Vermont at a small American handcrafts gallery in the early 1980's. I purchased a few of her beautiful woodcut cards, intending to send them on to friends. They are still in my notecard drawer - I could never part with them. Since then, I have found Mary's work featured in many children's books including Barn Cat, A Farmer's Alphabet (her first book which has been continuously in print since 1980), The Man Who Lived Alone, Symphony for the Sheep, Here Comes Darrell, and the Caldecott Winner Snowflake Bentley. Her work has been featured in over 40 books! What a career! The photos here are from our copy of Symphony for the Sheep written by C. M. Millen (Houghton Mifflin, 1996).

On Sunday, Julia, The Farmer and I went to hear Mary speak at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. She did a quick demonstration of her carving and printing process of the wood blocks. She shared her book making process - from book dummy to finished wood-cut for her most recent book From Dawn to Dusk. She showed her printer's proof of her upcoming book due this fall - Tuttle's Red Barn and told us that the book went through over 40 re-writes and almost as many tweeks to her illustrations before she could actually carve her blocks. After she carves and prints the woodblocks, she then paints on the colors with acrylics. What she ends up with is an illustration which is a combination of both techniques which is very distintive and perfect for children's book art.

Mary was very funny and down to earth, telling various tales of disaster and how she developed her work and business after moving to northern Vermont with her husband and three children in the early 1960's. She went to Smith College in Northampton, studied with Leonard Baskin there, and fell in love with printmaking. She's been at it for over forty years and just keeps on carving and printing. I liked the advice she gave - just sit down and do it. The more you do, the better you will get at something - whether it be drawing, painting, carving, stitching, or knitting.

I found Mary's no nonsense attitude refreshing in our world today of everyone wanting to be successful immediately. She confirmed my belief that it takes time, practice, and plain hard work to build any artist's or business' reputation. The lonely toiling-on develops style, techniques, talent, and skills which sometimes (but not always) turns into success on a commercial level. Love what you do and keep doing it, having faith that someone, somewhere will recognize your talent. Try not to get discouraged if success takes longer to obtain than you would ever have thought it would.

If you are interested in other recent writings on this subject, see Greta's recent post (March 20, 2007) on Middle of Nowhere and this article about Harry Bernstein becoming a published author at the age of 96. One of my favorite books to re-read is Donald Hall's Life Work - it always reminds me how much work there is to becoming successful. The Farmer calls it "stick-to-it-ive-ness" and he has more than me - I tend to go floating off to other subjects and genres at the beat of a hat (but I eventually return to what I know best).

If you have the opportunity to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, take it. It's only about 10 minutes off of Route 91. The exhibits change frequently. There is an art making room for kids which is open all day to visitors. There always seems to be some kind of interesting event going on.

12 comments:

Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Thanks for sharing Mary, her art and her story about stick-to-it-tive-ness! She looks like a woman you would be pleased to sit with over a cup of coffee and talk just about life in general.
I read the previous post, and I grew up in NS, Canada, and in spring there is a shrub that is a member of the wild rhododendron family that blooms with a pale mauve flower and I have always known it as Lamb's Kill! Never knew why, but the flower is the same as the one you show, except it is a pinkish mauve. Hope you don't lose anymore sheep!
I will watch for any of the books that Mary has illustrated!

Nancy said...

Thank you for this great post. I love MA's work--my favorites are her illustrations for Snowflake Bentley and for Leslie Connor's beautiful picture book "Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel."

knittingiris said...

What an inspiring day you had! I could use a good dose of that stick-to-it-ive-ness too. My DH has it, as well, which is how things really get done around here. I just dilly dally around my funny little projects while he makes things happen.
I'm going to have to keep my eye out for more of her works and check out her website.
So sorry about the sheep, but thank you for sharing some of the less sweet realities of farming: the lamb auction and the mountain laurel. A shame that such a beautiful plant can be so noxious, but that often seems to be the case.

bwilliams said...

I too am a huge Mary Azarian fan an have a stash of her calendars that I use as teaching tools when my Visual Arts students begin relief printing. The kids love them as well. Thanks for sharing an update on MA and her career.

tut-tut said...

Thanks for posting this, especially the photo of Mary. I'd never seen her before, but I have a print of hers in my kitchen!

Baa Bonny Belle said...

Oh my goodness...to my delight, after ordering your stitching book and a slightly off-day yesterday, I decided to sit down to catch up on Uncommon Threads. There you were, on an epsidoe of Uncommon Threads. Very cool. I do love embroidery, but just haven't done much latey, so I hope to jump back into it, esp. with your book and the lovely projects I saw pics of.

Happy Wednesday!

kate said...

Thanks for this post- I LOVE Mary A, too- and her books- her prints- all. (and I LOVE Eric Carle- I always read his books to the preschoolers and Kindergartners I read to!) My husband has anincredible amount of stickto itiveness- i don't - but with age, I think I am getting more of it.

salina said...

What an inspiring post for those of us who would love to do something more with our talents. I know that I would. I guess we can't just sit around waiting for it to happen for us, it actually takes a bit of work on our part to get it started and done.
Take care!

Brandy said...

I was just at a local maple festival at a school and found Mary's alphabet prints along the walls. I took pictures of all of them because I was so fascinated. Now I have a name to go with the art!

Mary K. in Rockport said...

Thanks for the museum recommendation - I think we'll get out there soon. As to MA, I keep one of her cards next to my bed - something about the delight of spending an hour in bed with a book (or lately, with the laptop.)

Joanne said...

Thank you for this post! I was feeling discouraged today-lots of waiting and rejection are part of "sticking it out" and I'm stalled out and waiting. Your inspiring post reminds me that weathering this is part of the job too! What an inspiring artist and post...

Kristin said...

Thanks for sharing! I love Mary's work. I was wondering which book has the knitting pictures?