(continued from yesterday)
Growing up surrounded by creative artists, performers, and musicians had a deep-forming effect on me. I am definitely a product of the environment my parents created. Not only was my father a graphic artist, but he was also a musician. Even beyond the well-known story of losing his trumpet on the New York subway and deciding it was a sign to pursue art instead. (Of course, soon after he bought himself another trumpet in some pawnshop). For instance, he could make a trumpet sound with his lips even without any trumpet! So around the house, while working at his artist’s table, he was always “playing music”. (You can see and hear him playing his cornet and his “lip” trumpet in the short documentary film "Storymaker”.)
My mother, Lydia, was also an artist and was actually the co-author of many of my father’s books. At 90 years old, she'd sketch every night an abstract picture of what the day had been for her. She came from creative parents; her mother was a painter and her father managed a music store. In my own history, playing the piano literally brought me to life out of a deep depression in my early 50’s. Although my interest in nature and science are deeply rooted and my many years as a professional scientist also molded me, I do not think I could live with anybody who was not – in some way - creative herself. My partner danced her way out of cancer and works as an alternative medical practitioner and movement therapist. She is creative and grounded (something I have a problem with); music and dance are in her body and soul.
After I left home, my parents occasionally took children and young adults who were having problems into their own home. My parents were very open, warm, and – as I learned later – played important roles in the lives of some other people. Once in a while, I get letters or e-mails from people thanking my father and mother for all they did for them, not only through children’s books, but also their personalities, directly!
Don was a very creative artist. Each one of his children’s books was illustrated in a different way. He simply could not do the same thing twice! (This is a trait I share with him. It is not always a positive; it is more like a drive that controls me, not me it!) Also, he insisted on doing all color separations himself, even in an era when most artists let the publisher do the color separations. This meant that Don’s color illustrations were created as four black illustrations: one each for blue, red, yellow, and black! The color picture of how all these looked when printed together existed only in Don’s mind! This was probably why he always wanted to be at the printers when his final color illustrations went to press. It was only Don who knew what the “correct” colors should look like.
My father was not only a very talented graphic artist, but he was a hard worker. He took his talent to task and sweated with it on the drawing table until it was exactly the way he wanted. When he had a book to finish, he would “hole up” someplace where he could work undisturbed, even a hotel room would do. Then, he would work day and night. This is crucial. It is not very special to be talented. Each one of us has our specialties. But to work hard in a disciplined way with the talent gifted to us – that is the real meaning of genius.