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.