A Man of Few Words: DAVID WIESNER

from Tuesday © David Wiesner
from Tuesday © David Wiesner

The great children’s book illustrator Davis Wiesner (WEEZner) came to Kutztown to talk at the 16th annual KU Children’s Literature Conference. The 3-time Caldecott Award winner visited a Communication Design class to share his art and creative process.

David Wiesner sharing his work with Kutztown University students.
David Wiesner sharing his work with Kutztown University students.

Oddly enough, he considered attending Kutztown University but was put off by our art test used in our admission’s process. Instead he attended RISD, Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied with great illustrators including David Macaulay.

March 1989 Cricket cover by David Wiesner
March 1989 Cricket cover by David Wiesner

One of his illustration jobs after college was a cover for the kids’ magazine Cricket. He said he always enjoyed the art school assignments that were the most vague, and this magazine assignment was wide open. The editor said there were several stories about frogs in the issue. Once he began sketching, he discovered, to his great delight, the shape of a frog centered on a round lily pad resembled the classic flying saucer seen in cheesy 50’s science fiction films.

From Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, 1956, © Columbia Picures
From Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, 1956, © Columbia Picures

His cover was a hit and David was inspired to take the imagery further into a full 32-page children’s picture book. The resulting nearly wordless book, Tuesday, won the Caldecott Medal for the best U.S picture book in 1992. David shared his four stage process of book creation. Stage 1: Storyboard, rough little pencil thumbnail sketches of all pages that will appear in the book. Stage 2: a dummy book, or prototype made to the same scale as the final. Stage 3: Detailed drawings for each page.

Stage 2 and 3: dummy, then finished drawing © David Wiesner
Stage 2 and 3: dummy, then finished drawing © David Wiesner

Compare the dummy to the final drawing and you will notice the houses are a lot more detailed. This is because at Stage 3 he gets serious about his image research. In this case, he found photos of homes in Provincetown, Mass, to serve as models from the neighborhood under aerial amphibious attack. He also constructs clay models like the frog below to help him envision the final image.

model by D. Wiesner
Frog model by David Wiesner

Stage 4: is the final exquisite watercolor painting. For Tuesday he used traditional transparent watercolor, (no black or white gouache) applied with kolinsky sable brushes. He makes his own low-tech graphite carbon paper to transfer his finished drawing to stretched Arches cold press watercolor paper.

Detail from Tuesday © by David Wiesner
Detail from Tuesday © by David Wiesner

This was a wonderful opportunity for our KU students to interact with one of the great masters of the childrens’ picture book. David Wiesner is a very busy artist. He is working simultaneously on two big projects now: an interactive tablet-based tale, and his first full-blown graphic novel. The graphic novel is a collaboration with writer Donna Jo Napoli. It has an octopus in it; I can’t say any more.

David’s own web site, www.davidwiesner.com  has much more information about his creative process. I was especially blown away by his step-by-step documentation of the development of one single page from his picture book, Art & Max.

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