Lin starts by telling us Tomie has published 250 or so books over fifty years, she asks him the secret of sustaining a lifelong career.
Lin: Courage to...
Tomie: Just courage! I get up in the morning and I have to face a blank piece of paper and my brushes all clean and ready to go. I panic, I freeze, I know I'm going to make a mistake... By then it's the afternoon!
Without scaring anybody, I think it gets worse! The more you know. You know, fools rush in, now it's all of these pressures that come from the outside, it's really hard to put them in their place. I'm so aware of the responsibility I have for creating something for young people.
Lin: When you were starting out were you aware of that responsibility? Or did you just really want to make picture books and felt your art was suitable?
Tomie: It was a bit of both. You know, the 'fame mosquito' buzzes around for a while, and you want that in the early days.
And eventually you will have a HUGE disappointment in your career, and you ask yourself why you are doing this?
Why are you doing books for children?
And I realized it was because they'd been important to me, in my life as a child, and I wanted to be that for new generations. I was lucky to have this epiphany early on.
Lin: Is there something you hope your books say to kids? Or is it that you want to create an atmosphere of something beautiful for them.
Tomie: All of that. I want kids to fall in love color and line and character, I want to make people laugh and cry...
Lin: Your books have such a present sense of childhood, what you do you think gives you that fresh sense?
Tomie: I'm blessed to have a very good memory. And the more I remember of my childhood, the more I remember. I really cherished those memories, and I had some help, I have home movies of me as a child and that helps me remember the experiences. What's important is I remember how I felt. It's not important what color the car was or what color the socks were. It's the feeling.
I also come from families of great storytellers.
Lin: Many artists are asked to write an artistic statement, how would you write your statement?
Tomie: My first response is I want to say 'Why do YOU want to know?!?!' I don't think it's a bad idea to write what your purpose is. But write it twice, write the first one very honestly and don't let anybody see it.
I was trained in the middle fifties at Pratt, a very fine art school, by very fine professionals. We were told not to be afraid, to try everything, you're just students—don't take yourself seriously—yet.
I look at curriculums today and I frankly don't recognize them, I remember when I bought a rapid-o-graph pen and everybody said, Oh my god! There is an emphasis on computers/technology today, and if I was in school today I would want to take advantage of all of that, of everything that's on offer. What bothers me most is the lack of history. People forget that Giotto and Fra Angelico were illustrators. They were visual storytellers and that's what illustrators have to be. I worry that young people today aren't given enough time to develop and flower. If they don't come out of the gate winning awards, the industry just says, "Next!"
It's like that Thornton Wilder quote, "Money is like manure; it's not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow..."
Some Tomie laws:
- Don't ever try to illustrate something you don't like.
- You and your art director speak the same foreign language.
- Don't get so busy with your work (Tomie's speaking to artists and art directors here) that you stop looking at others' art and going to shows. Have your household gods, surround yourself with images you love.
- You should be able to tell the story of a picture book just by looking at the pictures.
- Try reading The Courage To Create, modern society almost doesn't understand the creative act. So know you'll probably be misunderstood and try to make something anyway.
Lin's Lightning Round of questions for Tomie! His FAVORITE...
Classical artist: Piero della Francesca
Musical : Gypsy
Play: Glass Menagerie
Saint: Francis of Assissi
Paint brand: Golden Acrylics
Icon/Household god: Virgin of Guadalupe
Piece of Advice: