of the Center for Children's Books:
Gone But Not Forgotten
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Trina Schart Hyman , 1939-2004
To think of Trina Schart Hyman in the past tense is not only heartbreaking but nearly impossible as I sit surrounded by her artóforty years of enticement into the world of story through windows made of pen, ink, and paint. The more than 100 books that she illustrated project an artistic presence that is personal, immediate, and enduring: Trina, queen of graphic narrative, prolific but never at the cost of book craft. The grace, action, and humor of her drafting here stand alone, there support nuanced watercolors in a play of line and light. This kind of drawing requires intense intuitive awareness, as she demonstrates in her essay "Zen and the Art of Childrenís Book Illustration" with a recollection from art school. The instructor has just described Leonardo da Vinciís winning a Vatican commission without submitting a sketch, drawing instead a perfect circle on the floor at the popeís feet.
Itís a good story, and we were all impressed by it. Except I guess I wasnít impressed in the right way, because I opened my big mouth and the words that came out were, "I could do that." My drawing teacher just looked at me. He said, "You think you could do that? Iíll bet you five dollars you canít." And he handed me a stick of black contť crayon. "Go aheadóI dare you!"
Now, I didnít have five dollars. I had about forty-two cents and three subway tokens to last me until the end of the week. But I did have plenty of chutzpah. As I mentioned, I was young and ignorant. So I took the contť crayon, and didnít dare think about the five dollars or about making a fool of myself or anything like that. I just did it! And if it wasnít exactly, precisely perfect, it was near enough when the instructor checked it out with a compass. He gave me the five bucks, too! Then he asked me, "How did you do that?"(The Zena Sutherland Lectures 1983-1992, pp.188)
Trina goes on to explain,
Lose yourself, become the brush, become the line, think only of the stopping point, that is, the goal, and you will draw a straight line. Or a perfect circle. . . . For instance, when I was drawing all those quadruple-red-cross borders for Saint George and the dragon, that was a whole lot of freehand straight lines, believe me: 256 of them, to be exact. And I couldnít let myself mess up or let them go wobbly, because I was working on the sort of paper surface that doesnít take kindly to the usual ink-erasing devices. (p.190)
As this story unfolds, we hear not from the impulsive personality with wicked wit but from the artisan with practised control. Of course, these elements often converged. In one famous response to a negative review in Kirkus, Trina graced her next book with an unobtrusive gravestone inscribed "Virginia Kirkus RIP." Paradoxically irreverent and deeply respectful of her trade, Trina must have drawn a million Cricket Magazine bugs for every award she won. I was lucky to have her illustrate several of my own books, including the first in 1977, and cover art for the latest in 2003. Introducing the Sutherland lecture quoted above, I tried to explain my deep attachment to her as a person and an artist: "she paints as vividly as I dream." Thatís where she lives now, in perennial books and dreams, in perpetual present tense