Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jack Kent's Home & Work: Guest Post by Jack Jr.

I interviewed Jack Kent's only son, Jack Jr., for the San Antonio Current article in the house that his father designed and built here in San Antonio... "King Aroo's Castle". Jack Jr. moved back into it a few years ago after his mother passed away, and man, is it cool. The original house was a relatively small space, but there are books everywhere, first editions of Sasek's This Is... series. Crockett Johnson. Tomi Ungerer. Not to mention shelves of his dad's books, all neatly sorted by date. Both Jack Jr. and his wife, Susan Athené, said it was nothing compared to how many Jack Sr. kept when he lived there. Somewhere around 10,000.

I was interested in knowing a little more about what Jack Sr.'s studio space and work method must have been like back in the day. I thought some of you illustrators might be interested in knowing more, and Jack Jr. was kind enough to take the time to jot down a few thoughts on the subject. Let's welcome him...

In the original house, the main, large living space acted as a dining room, living room, my parent's bedroom (when they folded out the sofabed)... and my dad's studio. When we first moved in with my grandmother in '60, it was also my bedroom (I was tucked behind a bookcase). AND there was my dad's baby grand piano in there. So it was pretty bohemian and intimate.

Dad added a room for me (and storage) about '62-'63. Once I left for college in '73, he took it over as a studio, so for almost the first time in his life he had a reasonable amount of room to work.

Before that, his 'studio' consisted of a big wooden desk he'd found at a secondhand place, with a 1x2 lattice screen on which hung his pride and joy, a Krazy Kat Sunday original signed to him by George Herriman. Since he was a hopeless packrat, almost the entire desk surface was storage, with room only for his pipetray and a bottle of India ink. The real work was done on a drawing board propped between desk edge and his lap, or (for color separations) on a sheet of glass balanced on his knees over an up-ended shop light.

Altogether, about 5 feet by 6, half of that desk.

A typical workday might have been: up at 5:30 for a leisurely breakfast, shower, and pipe over coffee and newspaper; drive my mom to work and me to school; then a mixture of errands and brainstorming in his armchair with a clipboard for rough sketches. Frugal since his Depression childhood, most of his preliminary work was done with pencil on sheets cut from a vast stock of outdated blueprint paper he'd salvaged from his days working for a map company.

Lunch with his mom, on the back terrace by the river if the weather was even halfway warm.

A story idea might start with notes on index cards, filed in cigar boxes (he also smoked cigars and couldn't stand to waste a good box). It would be developed on the clip board and blocked out rough in pencil or ink and crowquill pen on sheets of Strathmore board. He typed, two-finger and slowly, on an old manual; he cut out blocks of text and rubber-cemented them to the boards. Unless he was submitting to a new publisher, this is the form that his editors saw and pronounced yes/no/maybe upon.

Then time to pick us up from work/school, and (in the good old days when there were morning and evening dailies) another pipe and paper while my mom cooked dinner. Then dinner and a good book or TV. I was usually in bed when the production work began.

The final work was done on Strathmore, like the comic strip blocked in with nonphotoblue pencil and inked with India ink and a camel's hair brush. I envy him his control of that brush. He preferred to do his own color separations on mylar overlays (everything held on the glass with masking tape). For the early 3-color jobs, 3 overlays for magenta-cyan-yellow, each color as careful blobs of black ink on the mylar. As the publishing industry progressed he was increasingly able to work a single mylar in watercolor or beautiful transparent colored inks, no doubt loving the freedom of that.

And so on into the night as my mom slept on the hide-a-bed 3 feet away. He was shirtless in the summers (he didn't like air conditioning, so we all suffered along) and plagued by tiny green gnats that came right through the window screens to his lone fluorescent light.

(The image of Jack Sr. in the main room of the house was taken from an article that ran in the San Antonio Express Magazine in 1953. The other picture is of Jack Jr. and Susan standing at the back of the house. The awesome, glowing cicada sculpture was designed by Jack Jr. and created by his artist friend, Dale Jenssen.)


Dan Moynihan said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing this. I am loving Jack Kent Week here.

Kathleen said...

Wow! I would love to see more of his house. Thanks for giving us a peek into his life. I have to say that we own and love several Jack Kent books, but the illustrations in "Janie and the Giant" are my son's favorites. He acts out everything the giant does, the exact way it is illustrated.

Unknown said...

thanks for sharing about your father, jack jr. and thanks for jack kent week, scribbler!

Caryn said...

Wonderful to read. I love the images of his books! I happen to organize all my children's books by color and noticed that most of the Jack Kent books I own are in the yellow to orange range. Thought that was interesting and then funny to see in that picture. Thanks for sharing!

Antmusic said...

Thanks for sharing this great information (see, I didn't say "awesome")!

By the way, your book picture showed me "How to Make Possum's Honey Bread" (a book I didn't know about). I'd love to see the spines of all of the books they have of Jack Sr's stuff.

Amy R. W. said...

Thank you so much, Jack Jr., for telling us more about one of my very favorite children's book illustrators. When I was little, I read "Dooly and the Snortsnoot" and "Jack Kent's Book of Nursery Tales" over and over.

And many thanks to Scribbler for this fantastic Jack Kent week! Yay!

daysease said...

Wow, what an interesting post... and love that cicada sculpture. looks like it also a light!! neat. thanks for sharing!!

Jack Jr, thank you for sharing some of your history with us!! have a great day.

Janna said...

What a great opportunity for you! Thanks to Jack Jr. for sharing. I absolutely loved "Joey Runs Away" when I was very little... I used to act the story out with my mom.

Swati said...

Thank you for bringing this interview to us. Thoroughly enjoying your spotlight on Mr. Kent.

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