My parents emigrated from Sweden to the United States and settled in Chicago, where I was born. The three of us (I was an only child) lived in an apartment building on the third floor. The view from my corner bedroom through the trees to the sidewalk below led me to daydreaming and imagining.
I have always tried to have “something to look at” in the place where I work. Today, from my drawing table in New York, I see the city. In Texas I looked at hills and desert, and in Maine I saw tall pine trees and a meadow from my window. Looking out the window as I work leads my mind and imagination to the place I want to be.
My great-uncle was an enormous childhood influence on me. When he wasn’t painting houses, he was an artist -- and what an artist! He painted everything -- canvases, postcards, clothing, decorative walls, and floors. He carved wooden figures and painted them. He played a concertina and had a trunk full of disguises. And he had boxes full of old engravings he had collected that I spent hours and hours looking at.
Comic books and library books, in equal amounts, were the basis of my visual education. Little Lulu, Henry, and Walt Disney Comics were among my favorites. The illustrators whose work I loved were Lois Lenski, Elizabeth Orton Jones, Wanda Gág, Maud and Miska Petersham, and Robert Lawson, among others.
Except for a brief period when ballerina dreams floated in my head, I always wanted to be an artist. I wanted to make pictures that told stories. But it wasn’t until college, when I saw a Kate Greenaway book for the first time, that I knew I would make books for children.
The most important part of my formal art education was Saturday and summer high school classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. One special teacher, Mr. Jacobson, taught me how to see, and how to draw. In college I studied painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. I learned on my own about illustration and making books.
I look at primitive and naïve paintings for their storytelling qualities. And the spirit and spontaneity of Mexican crafts are especially exciting to me.
A number of my books have been about artists -- both famous and unknown. It’s been said that writers and artists write the same book and paint the same picture all their lives, in various forms. My fascination with becoming an artist -- perhaps stemming from my own confusion as a child about how to become a “grownup” artist -- has led me to explore this process in my books. I think the impetus to write or to paint or to dance or to sing comes from the same place. We just have to find the path to fulfill the dream.
Jeanette Winter lives in New York City with her husband, painter Roger Winter. Her two sons, Jonah and Max, both poets, also live in New York City.
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Every day I tell Mama,
I want to go home.
Every day she tells me,
We are home, Angelina.
New York is home now.
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