The Joy of Seeing


I was sketching randomly today (sort of my version of a warm-up for the final phase of book illustrating, which is like a creative workout) and remembered when a friend asked me whether I’m researching other children’s book illustrators, and I told her that I purposely avoid it. Instead, I look for inspiration in other forms: traditional museum paintings, clothing designs and colors, old school album art, retail store advertisements, interior design, nature, everything. A lot of it has to do with a deep fear of copying. Although I know that original ideas are a rarity and that it’s almost impossible to truly replicate others’ work, I still don’t want to feel like I’m inadvertently taking on someone else’s style.


I realized, though, that I wasn’t being entirely accurate. I’ve always been thoroughly enamored with children’s books, and I’m certain that my favorite illustrator’s techniques and aesthetics have unconsciously seeped into my own creations over the years. I may not have actively looked to my heroes in the illustration world while I’ve been developing my own artwork, but they’re all there as part of me, resting and clustered on my shoulder like miniature art teachers.

I stumbled across this book by one of my all-time favorite illustrators, Lisbeth Zwerger, and these words pretty much sum up what I was trying to tell my friend and how I try to see the world:

The Joy of Seeing

Joy comes from seeing the beautiful.
A scarf, sweeping from the neck. A puffedout skirt with mysterious
draping. A wallpaper with an intricate pattern. Hats and furniture,
statues and inscriptions, graceful figures and dainty shoes.

Joy also comes from seeing the demonic, the ugly.
A man whose body looks like a fly. A fearsome witch. A ghost
holding his head in his hands. A black spectre.

Joy comes from seeing the fantastic.
Mr. Knife and Mrs. Fork, with blade and prong growing out of their heads. A
dancing camel. A boy climbing into a picture. A fish flying through the air.

Joy comes from the humorous.
A mouse wearing a woolen cover around its long, thin tail. A little
man with a pillow on his head. A donkey and some scholars
wearing the same spectacles. Maids lifting their skirts to hide
their kissing princess.

Joy with the eyes emerges from stories.

– Lisbeth Zwerger, from The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger



This is a quick sketch I made of Lisbeth Zwerger – portraiture is not my strong suit! This also reminded me of the famous experiment with Joshua Bell – have you heard of it? It blew me away, and the part that affected me most was about the kids. There’s also a youtube video here. When do we lose the capacity to pay attention?

P.S. I’m working on an outfit for myself that I’ll try to share tomorrow!

3 thoughts on “The Joy of Seeing

  1. I love Elizabeth Zwerger, too! When my older son was little I bought him a copy of her illustrated version of The Wizard of Oz for his 7th birthday- it was a luxury purchase for us at the time, as finances were tight back then- but oh so worth it. Through the years I’ve lost track of where that book is and I often obsess randomly over it- trying to remember where I saw it last. Some things have the power to haunt us with their beauty! Anyway- all of this is an excuse to say hi, briefly, because I’ve started a new job (teaching English- exciting, but not too exciting!) and have no time anymore for the little and sometimes great pleasure of blog reading! I’ll miss this space for awhile- and look forward to checking in with your creations when I get the chance to breathe again. Happy spring!

    1. Happy Spring, Gita! Good luck with your new job — definitely exciting!! I’ll miss your wonderful comments and it sounds like you’ll be busy. I hope I get to hear more about your new role as English teacher 🙂

  2. The story of Joshua Bell being ignored always haunts me…if I were in a hurry, would I have stopped to listen?

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