Saturday, January 30, 2010

Peter Sis

Peter is telling jokes and amazing stories about 10 anecdotes every 5 seconds. I am only getting the tip of the iceberg, sorry:

As a child, Peter's parents encouraged him to paint and draw, his father was a film maker.

When Peter was four, his father was drafted into military service for 19 months where he met the young Dalai Lama! He had a photo up of him on the slide show, but I am too slow with my camera.

Here's a picture of a light switch in Peter's childhood home in Prague. He painted the chairs and the refrigerator, too! Except he forgot to tell his mother and her friends that had just come over to visit that the chair was not yet dry...

In school, Peter learned how to do illustration, film posters, costume design, animation, Communist-era album covers, basically any practical application of the arts.

In his early twenties, Peter wanted to be an animator and focused on building his career in that direction. In Eastern Europe at that time, animation didn't mean Tom & Jerry, but more like arty short films. Here's a shot of Peter's first short film. Peter did the 1984 Olympics commercial animations and was soon tapped by MTV in Los Angeles to do some animations.

That MTV work didn't go well, and Peter was stuck in America without a paying job, so he started teaching art. Peter didn't last as a teacher very long as his mantra for his students was, "You want to do art, you will have to suffer for your art." (He'd give them an assignment the day before it was due so they'd have to stay up all night working on it in proper Czech Art School Fashion.)

He ended up painting eggs in LA until he got a collect phone call from Maurice Sendak who convinced him to move to the East Coast, get into children's books, and attend things like ALA.

With the money Peter made for doing the AMADEUS poster he bought an old Mustang and WITHOUT A MAP started driving cross country from LA.

Peter says, when he got to San Antonio he thought he should turn left and asked a patrol car there for directions.


He finally did get to New York and started doing editorial illustration work. He wanted his work to stand out to companies like the NYT and so that is how he came up with the fine, dotted style he's famous for.

Peter says, twenty-five years later and with a pinched nerve, that that style idea was the wrong life move. I'm sure we all disagree with that, but do feel bad about the pinched nerve.

Peter used Tomi Ungerer as a career path model and hoped to, like Tomi, be earning a living as an illustrator in seven years (not knowing that Tomi had actually made some of that money in real estate...)

Peter referenced Jacqueline Woodson's comments earlier today echoing her feelings about work and life after 9/11. He showed a slide of this beautiful whale image he was commissioned to make by the New York Transit for subway cars in the spring of 2001. The image stayed in trains for two years and a quote from Peter:

The whale was absolutely one of my favorite works. It was created out of my love for Manhattan and was the most patriotic and heartfelt project I ever did. And the reaction of the public was amazing. I got phone calls and letters from all over the country,"

He calls THE WALL the most difficult book he's ever made in his life.

Check out more of Peter's work and his upcoming book about young Pablo Neruda, THE DREAMER, by Pam Munoz Ryan here.

-- Posted by Jaime


  1. Thanks for the recap, Jaime. I wish I coulda been there, but your post is as close as I'll get... and it was mighty fine, indeed.

  2. Thanks, Greg! Hopefully he'll go on tour for a book again soon and get to the West Coast maybe.