Keeping up with brilliant children's book illustrator Barbara McClintock
About: Barbara's books have won 5 New York Times Best Books awards, a New York Times Notable Book citation, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor award, and numerous other awards, recommended/best book lists, and starred reviews
Born: Clinton, NJ
Early influences: "My photographer father, seamstress/teacher mother, and the cartoon character Top Cat" (from her website)
Early years (from her website...this is fascinating!): "I drew constantly as a child. By the time I was seven, I knew I would be an artist when I grew up. My older sister recommended I become a children's book illustrator, and this proved to be a rare instance when I followed my sister's advice. I also wanted to be a cat when I grew up, and am glad I had art as a back up plan • I loved inventing stories - very scary stories - that I told to my best friend and her sisters in the darkest closet in their house. After numerous nights of my friends not being able to sleep due to the aforesaid scary stories, and the ensuing conversations between my friends' mother and my mother, I developed a more benign approach to storytelling • When I was 9, my parents divorced, and I moved to North Dakota with my mother and sister. When my mother remarried, my step-father, a former cowboy, gave me a horse. I rode from dawn 'til dusk every summer, until I discovered boys. Drawing, however, never stopped - I continued to draw through middle and high school, often in the margins of my test papers and homework • I attended Jamestown College in North Dakota, where I refined my drawing skills by copying pictures in art books I checked out of my college library • Way back in the dark ages when I attended college, there were no courses available in children's literature, and I was clueless about how to even begin a career as a children's book author/illustrator. I decided to call Maurice Sendak to ask his advice, thinking that he, of anyone, would know how I should proceed. My art Professor encouraged me to call, telling me I had nothing to worry about. “He'll either be nice and tell you what you want to know, or he'll just hang up” • I called information in the town where Maurice Sendak lived, got his phone number, and dialed. He answered the phone. Maurice was gracious and very helpful; he talked to me for 20 minutes, told me how to put together a portfolio, and recommended I move to New York City • Two weeks after my 20th birthday, my best friend took me to the airport in Jamestown, ND, and I flew to New York to begin my career • I studied for a few months at the Art Student's League in New York with the notable illustrator John Groth, but the method of study that most appealed to me was continuing to copy from art books I checked out of libraries • And what a vast treasure of art books were available to me once I was in New York! I also sketched paintings and drawings in museums in New York City, as well as London, Paris, St. Louis, Vienna, and Lisbon. I'm essentially self-taught as an artist/illustrator, and can thank the public library system for my free education • My first job was designing characters for television commercials for an animation studio. I worked as a chef's assistant in a restaurant, failed miserably as a waitress, and illustrated textbooks, until I met Jim Henson and began illustrating books for his television series FRAGGLE ROCK • During that period, I saw a play based on a Balzac story written as a vehicle for the 19th Century French illustrator J.J. Grandville. That play was the biggest epiphany of my life as an artist. I went home and immediately drew an 87 page sketchbook of the play from memory. Regrettably, the play closed within a week, robbing me of the opportunity to see it again. I made a wordless dummy book based on the story, THE HEARTACHES OF A FRENCH CAT, and took it around to publisher after publisher. Rejected by 16 publishers before it was accepted by David R. Godine, it won my first New York Times Best Books award • Perhaps I'm a soul reincarnate from the 19th Century, or I just have a fascination with history and period costume; my books dwell in a past world. I've been amply rewarded for my obsession with an older time - ANIMAL FABLES FROM AESOP, THE FANTASTIC DRAWINGS OF DANIELLE, DAHLIA, THE GINGERBREAD MAN, CINDERELLA, and ADELE & SIMON are just a few of my books based in a long-ago time that have won prestigious awards and garnered glowing, sometimes rhapsodic reviews. There is some movement into more contemporary settings for my books. MARY AND THE MOUSE, THE MOUSE AND MARY takes place in the 1950s-1960s, and the 1990s - quite an invigorating departure for me! • Inspiration for my stories comes from my childhood, family and friends. My photographer father created a life-long love and fascination with cameras and picture making. My son Larson has provided inspiration for many of my books - THE BATTLE OF LUKE AND LONGNOSE came of his childhood interest in swords and swashbuckling. As a young adult, his curious mind has led him to a love of China, Mandarin, and Chinese culture and history, and in turn has inspired me in Adele & Simon's next book, set in 1908 China. And my mother's love-since-childhood of Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry culminated in my illustrating A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES for her • In 2005, the illustrator David Johnson and I moved to a Georgian-style brick house built in 1815 in rural Connecticut. My studio looks out over the ever-expanding rose garden cultivated by David. I 'travel' in time and imagination, to China, France, and my own back yard for inspiration and settings for my books, but am only a few steps away from the coffee pot in my kitchen"
Visits: "I love speaking in schools, libraries, and yes, even to adult groups! • My presentations are lively and involve audience participation. I have a power-point presentation, and I draw - a lot - as I talk • I'm happy to work with your school to tailor my presentation to fit your school's curriculum studies or interests. I will also craft presentations to fit single keynote presentations, adult workshops, and panel discussion presentations" (from her website)
Here below is Barbara's remarkable and glorious output: