The Influence of Richard Scarry

This week, rather than talk about my work, I’d like to talk to you about one of my artistic influences.  We have influences, both conscious and subconscious, that determine the kind of pictures we draw, the canvasses we paint, the music we compose, the films we produce, etc.  I have a number of them myself and today I want to talk to you about one of them.  This influence, in spite of being a well-established name in the field of literature and illustration, was only one I recently brought in to keep my work from getting stagnant.  That influence I’m  here to talk to you about is Richard Scarry.

Richard Scarry (1917-1994) was a world famous children’s author and illustrator.  While he wrote a number of children’s books, including select titles for the famed Little Golden Books imprint, Scarry’s claim to fame would be the Busytown series.  The Busytown books contained several pages worth of illustration depicting the fictitious settlement of Busytown, inhabited by anthropomorphic animals.  Recurring characters include Huckle Cat (named after Scarry’s son, Richard “Huck” Scarry Jr.), Lowly Worm, Huckle’s family, Sergeant Murphy, Mr. Fixit and many others.  Each page of Scarry’s Busytown books are filled with a whole lot of stuff.  Scarry put in many images so that children (and even adults) would keep going back over the pictures as they would not find everything the first time.  From what Scarry said, he didn’t want kids to read his books just once and toss them aside.  He actually considered it an honor for kids to read his books until they wore out and/or they had to be patched up with tape.

Sometime in the late 1960s/early 1970s (my research shows conflicting dates), Richard Scarry and his family moved to Gstaad, Switzerland.  It would be here that Scarry continued to work on his books.  He adopted a policy where he worked in his studio all day on his books and had given his wife orders not to disturb him except for his lunch break (how industrious).  His working process involved putting down pencil sketches, coloring in his figures in gouache paint, and then redoing the line work with pen-and-ink.

Scarry put out many titles during his lifetime.  Eventually, by the 1980s and 1990s, a number of his books has to be revised because some of the material in them was considered outdated or even offensive!  For a comparison of the original version of Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever and its updated, revised edition, check out this neat blog post.  Richard Scarry suffered health problems later on in life, including failing eyesight, and passed away in 1994 of a heart attack.  Scarry may have died…but his work refuses to.  Even today, the Busytown books and his other titles continue to sell millions of copies all over the world and have been translated into many languages.  If you’re interested in learning more about Scarry, check out the Wikipedia entry linked at the start of this article or check out this informative blog post.

Richard Scarry has become an influence on my work.  How so?  I love his scratchy pen work.  It reminds me much of the vintage newspaper comics strips.  I also love his compositions.  He could fill up a page that would make a person look over it, yet not clutter it up.  I’m going to be incorporating some Scarry-style compositions in my own work.  Plus, anyone who’s read his books may have noticed that his characters dress in Swiss Alpine style clothing.  That actually led me to start making wardrobe changes in my characters.  In fact, I even gave Rusty an lalternate wardrobe influenced by Scarry and in a future story, I’ll reveal that Rusty’s ancestry is Swiss!

Rusty's Swiss Alpine wardrobeWell, that does it for this week.  Be sure to tune in next week for even more posts.  Subscribe via email or RSS feed if you haven’t already.  Don’t be afraid to comment here with your questions or feedback.  I’ll field them.

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About Max West

I am a freelance artist and the creator of Sunnyville Stories, an independent slice-of-life comics series.
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