TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Mary Azarian

Mary Azarian

Caldecott Medalist Mary Azarian is a consummate gardener and a skilled and original woodblock artist. Many of her prints are heavily influenced by her love of gardening, and her turn-of-the-century farmhouse is surrounded by gardens that reveal an artist's vision. Mary Azarian received the 1999 Caldecott Medal for SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. She lives, skis, and gardens in Vermont.

"The process I use to create my illustrations is a little unusual. I begin by drawing an image on a wooden board. I use a rough sketch on which to base this drawing. The areas not drawn on are then removed with a knife or chisel, leaving the drawn image in the form of raised ridges.

Next, I roll black ink onto the carved block, lay a piece of white paper on the inked block, and make a print of what I have carved. I use an antique proof press to do the printing, but I could also print by hand by rubbing the paper with a wooden dowel to transfer the print from the block to the paper. The print will be the reverse of what I have drawn on the block and I have to keep that in mind when I do the original drawing on the block. Of course, if any text is to be carved, the words must be drawn backwards starting on the right side of the block and moving to the left, the opposite of the way we read.

The may seem like a lot of work, but the advantage to having a woodcut is that you can print as many copies as you want. I usually print several copies of each illustration for a picture book. Then I am ready to complete each illustration by painting the black-and-white print with water-based acrylic paints. Since I have multiple copies of the print, I can experiment with painting until I get just what I want.

For me, illustrating a book is both challenging and exciting. It means that I will probably get to learn about a subject that I am barely familiar with and depict scenes that I wouldn't ordinarily attempt. I tend to be a steady worker, but often procrastinate when faced with starting on a book project. It always looms as a monumental effort and I often feel not quite up to the challenge. I decide to tidy up my studio, clean the garage, organize the bureau drawers, etc.-anything to delay starting on a book. But, with the deadline approaching, I finally have to begin work. The whole process makes me believe very firmly in "the muse," or that part of one's subconscious that makes the creative process possible. Once I begin drawing on the blocks, ideas seem to come with ease. The actual carving process is always satisfying. And as I work on the blocks and the painting, there is nothing I would rather be doing."


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