July 18, 2015

Part 4 - How to run away to NYC to become a children's book illustrator

photo of me in colors.jpg

And so our tiny tale of hopeful striving rambles on... with our petite protagonist settling into his new life in the big city. Having dared to dream, he discovers that the world quickly becomes his oyster.

It was fun exploring my new neighborhood. There was the one grocery store where nobody spoke english... not even the checkout clerks. Somehow we managed. Then at the other grocery store, you’d be greeted by ‘Howie’ the manager... a real mustachioed character along the lines of Don Ameche. Howie really loved to sing. You’d walk in and he’d be crooning... “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie... That’s Amore!”. They don't sing like that in Seattle.

Outside, the neighbor kids would be break dancing to boom box music on flattened cardboard boxes on the sidewalk. They'd wait for the next delivery job to take groceries to some apartment on their special 3 wheeled delivery bikes.

There was 'The World Famous Pizza Joint’ on Broadway with live video coverage of ‘The World Famous Burger Joint’ just two stores down. There was the Apthorp Laundry and Zabars Delicatessen.... where one soon learned better than to just ask for 'cheddar cheese?' They had about 7,000 to choose from. I haven't seen a real deli anywhere west of the Hudson since.

And of course I needed to furnish my new lodging. In Manhattan, I discovered, this is as easy as picking through the piles of garbage on the street outside. You would not believe what people throw away in NYC. Probably within 2 days I had most everything I'd need. A desk, a swivel lamp, table and chair. And to keep the roaches out of my soap and toothpaste, I found a birdcage, which I hung from the ceiling. I'd keep my soap, toothpaste and the silverware inside. I strung christmas lights on the wall for a soft evening glow of illumination. So there you have it... La Boehm... right on West 78th Street. Everything but Mimi, of course... but she was to arrive later.

On to Art School

Art school was way down in Greenwich Village. It was a 15 minute ride in the subway or a 40 minute ride on the bus. I really liked taking the bus more because I got to see so much of New York City. I remember feeling totally happy one morning riding the bus down to school... as if it were a feeling I'd never felt before. The bus went past the FlatIron Building... past the Christmas Store... a crisp bright fall morning in New York city and it was wonderful to just feel almost like a different person. I had an apartment and a job at the Parsons School of Design. I had a whole new exciting life... my old and miserable life had been replaced almost by magic.  And I liked the new one better. It was exciting.. it smelled an exotic, intriguing, edgy, big time smell... no telling what was ahead. Life was good.

At Parsons I got a job in the school tour office. It was the funniest little office. To get there you walked through a gallery space and then up a funny spiral staircase made of cast iron and looking very old fashioned.

Classes were okay I guess. Mostly just life drawing. It was all just learning all the art basics about colors and values and all that stuff. Drawing from the nude. You know how it is with art teachers. One teacher would teach all the students to paint just like her. She had us all buy the exact same brush she used... the same paper... the same palette. She had us hold the brush exactly like she did and move it just like she did.

Another teacher would be busy torturing the models with absurd poses... and torturing the students with absurd commands. Some of the teachers were just great... and realized that we don't all have to paint just like they do. I had one class from Norman Rockwell's cousin... David, or Peter or something. He was a wonderful old gent in a sporty cap who'd tell great stories about the old days.

One morning I had the oddest experience. Walking onto the school elevator there was a girl I'd sat next to in my college german class for a whole year... 2000 miles away!

"Margaret! What are you doing in New York?", I asked, incredulous.
"Modeling for life drawing!", she smiled, "And trying to get into a broadway show".
We chatted a bit... but never did get together. New York never seems to allow anyone time to just hang out. Good thing I met her in the elevator. I imagine if she'd just walked into one of my life drawing classes out of the blue and dropped her robe, THAT might have been just too much! I always had kind of a crush on her. Auf Wiedersehen, Margaret... I guess she was chasing a dream too.

I’d have to say mostly the classes weren’t very interesting and there was a real undercurrent of discontent among many of the students about getting out into New York and seeing publishers and finding work as illustrators. I guess it was around that time that I found out you really didn’t need a diploma to become a freelance illustrator... all you needed was a portfolio and talent. And I already had those. This was a very happy discovery for me. As always, I was in a hurry... I'd already been to college.


After about 5 weeks of becoming more disenchanted with the school, I went in to show my portfolio to Murray Tinkleman, the dean of the Illustration department. That experience turned things around for me 180 degrees. Murray just luved my work and immediately put me into Maurice Sendak’s children's book class which was mostly for 4th year seniors. He also switched me into some other more interesting classes.... with Walter and Niad Einsel. Both those classes were worlds better, and exactly what I'd hoped to find in a New York art school.

To be continued... when our ambling artist wannabe meets 2 Caldecott winners and strikes out on his own.

(continued in the link below)

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