As a child I loved to be read to by my mother. While she read, I often drew images that came to my mind from the story I was listening to. If the book was about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, I drew castles, knights in carefully crafted chain-mail armor, maidens in distress, and jousting scenes with horses and banners. To me the story and the drawing were one.
I liked drawing so much that I didn't need a story to get me going. My mother would take from a closet a roll of “shelf paper,” basically a scroll of white paper that, because it unrolled, implied a beginning, middle, and end, and therefore some sort of story. I went to school in New York City but my heart was with our old farmhouse at the far end of Long Island, so I often illustrated the trip, starting with the buildings of the city I did not love, unwinding farther and farther into the countryside that I couldn’t wait to get back to, and ending with the house that I loved. That was my story, and probably still is — the long way back to what I love most.
My father and mother were artists of different sorts. I was surrounded by the the process of making things beautiful, not least in daily life, in the tending of house and garden and in the meals we ate as a family (I had an older brother). There was a big studio and several walls in the garden on which I could paint murals whenever the sun and rain had bleached away the previous ones. The first sculptures I made were sober tombstones for my pet mice when they died, their names and the brief span of their lives inscribed beneath the deceased individual’s portrait.
I never studied art in school, but right when I graduated from college I was given a book to illustrate because my father had told the publisher who approached him that he did not illustrate but that his daughter could. That was the very first book and it came out forty years ago. There were two more soon after, and I thought I had found my profession, but many years passed before I picked up writing and illustrating again. By then I had two children, who by this time are all grown up.
Now, when I paint my illustrations I listen to stories on the radio, or music, or the news if I can bear it. I am no longer the child I was, but in regard to the pleasure I take in the interplay between story and drawing, not much has changed.