What Maurice Sendak Meant to Me...

So I was planning on doing a post this morning about some of my new work, but it just didn't seem right considering the events that have recently transpired.  Maurice Sendak, one of the most influential writer/illustrators of the childrens literature world, passed away today.
Maurice Sendak: 1928 - 2012
I don't believe I need to list a catalogue of great things Maurice Sendak did, because if you are reading this you undoubtedly are already a fan, or at least know of his work.  Mr. Sendak was nothing if not cutting edge, dark, with a twist of lighthearted fun.  In a portfolio review I had at my first SCBWI conference a book designer from Simon & Schuster told me that elements of my work had a darkness to it.  She went on to say that Maurice Sendak had recently given a talk and believed that this was an element missing from current picture books. Children liked to be scared and know at the end that they will be okay.  I was so flattered by this mild association, that even though I know a lot of publishers probably wouldn't like "the dark stuff" I still continue to add an element or two when I feel it's necessary.
Some "darker" imagery from my portfolio at the time
I will not hesitate to say that Mr. Sendak has had a huge influence on my work. He not only inspired my illustration work, but also my writing and even dating back to my years as a costume designer.  I was fortunate enough to get projects which required the design to have a fabulous combination of  darkness twisted up with some humor.  This sensibility has carried through to a lot of my other work.
Costume Designs from Productions of "The Skriker" and "Burning Desires" produced by The Defiant Theater
 Most books nowadays have a much lighter feel, whether they are dealing with an annoying baby brother or sister, trouble at school, or a character just trying to fit in. Sendak's newest book, Bumble-ardy reads more like a work of art.  His edge isn't lost with age, but perhaps even more severe with Bumble-ardy's auntie threatening to turn him into ham for misbehaving. Yet there is still that light touch of love at the end... in only the way Maurice could do it.

In my studio I try to surround myself with things that inspire and influence me.  I have pictures of my dog (of course), cartoons that make me laugh, shelves with rotating picture books that I face out every month for new inspiration, but the one thing I have that will now mean more to me than ever is a print from "Where the Wild Things Are."  Interestingly enough I purchased this print back in the summer of 1999, while working as a designer and assistant at a theater in Wisconsin, having no idea about the creative shift my future held.  What I did know was that as a child this book fascinated me.  I remember taking it out in the school library multiple times and just staring at the illustrations of the monsters.  I was fascinated by the details, the line work, and everything in between.  Funny thing is, I am still fascinated.
I consider myself to be very fortunate that I was able to meet Maurice Sendak while working on an opera version of his book Brundibar that he designed in 2003.  Although our paths crossed very briefly, he was sweet and kind and especially great to the kids in the show.  

If I could go back in time, I wish I would have thanked him for all of his work, but then again, maybe by being a fan of his work...I already have. 
“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!”
Goodbye Maurice. Thanks for breaking the rules and being an artist I could look up to.  You will be missed, but your work will be gobbled up by children forever.  


lindsey said…
Such a great tribute. Really nicely written Jen.
What a lovely post Jen, made me smile :)
JenKellerArt said…
Thank you so much... I'm glad you liked it.

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