David Wiesner is many things—author, illustrator, three-time Caldecott Prize-winner.
Recently, he visited Germantown Friends School’s Lower School After-School Program, ASPire, as part of the new Experience Program—which teaches the children a new skill or introduces them to a new field each afternoon—to share his talents. While the kids snacked on orange slices and goldfish crackers, Wiesner told the story of how he became an artist and shared his book-making process, from start to finish.
With his books displayed on a table behind him, Wiesner began by speaking about his early interest in art.
“When I was young, I drew a lot,” said the children’s book author and Chestnut Hill resident, whose own children, Kevin and Jaime, attended GFS. “You get better the more you do. Don’t think you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re no good. The more you do it, the better you get.”
His process begins simply.
“Everything I do starts in my sketchbook,” he said. “When I think, it’s mostly pencil on paper—that’s how I think of ideas. I’ll draw my characters and play around with scenes and ideas in my sketchbook. It doesn’t start out complete, I have to work to make it better.”
Wiesner held up a floppy white book, drawing paper bound together, and explained, “Most picture books are 32 pages long. I make a sketch version of the story, just simple [pencil] sketches. I make a bunch of these, and hopefully each one gets better.”
Then Wiesner revealed a large drawing with vibrant color, an image from his book, “Art & Max,” which is about lizards that paint.
“Once I know what my story will be, and how it will fit into the 32 pages of the book, I make a separate drawing for each page,” he told his audience. “I like to have a really clear drawing of the picture before I paint it. Each picture in a book is a single painting.”
From there, his “big pile of paintings” are printed together on one big sheet, then put through a large machine that folds and cuts the paper so that each page will be in the correct order. A final machine sews the pages together, and attaches a cardboard cover.
“It’s kind of a long process,” Wiesner admitted, “but it’s amazing to see.”
The students were enthralled by the process, and asked questions that included, How long does writing a book like this take? (creating a single book takes Wiesner a year, on average) and, Do you have any favorites among your books? (nope, no favorites).
“They all mean a lot to me,” Wiesner concluded, smiling.