I suppose I could say it came to me first when I was really young. The 64-color box of Crayolas and whatever paper was available at home were inseparable from the idea of daily fun, play, and discovery. Visits to our public library complemented these discoveries; going there on rainy days, taking out dozens of picture books, and getting from within their plastic-protected covers, in pages that invariably smelled to my mind like rainwater drying in a shallow pool of moss, silt, and old, impressive stones, ideas for new combinations of color and ways to put form to people and animals - this was (and in truth remains to be, when I go back and reread the volumes that transported me decades ago) pure magic.
So, I always loved to read, and, like most children, naturally wanted to express whatever I read in pictorial form.
For some time I stopped drawing regularly, and while this marker passed without any feeling of loss, it was without question an unacknowledged death of sorts. Developmentally, this seems to be the case for most people; things done so frequently in childhood—wearing mismatched socks, for instance, or dancing unselfconsciously in public to silly songs or joyful thoughts—can leave without warning or request. Air from a poorly tied plastic bag.
Slowly, I regained my air. Right after college I found myself a doctoral student in child development at Harvard, with my research focused specifically on factors that support healthy, prosocial outcomes for at-risk children and teens. Creativity, it turns out (probably to no one's particular surprise), plays no small role in buffering humans in times of challenge and stress; so I found myself thinking a lot about creativity and the arts in general in preparing for what I wanted to be a monumentally successful/insightful dissertation. But I wanted to blow right through my studies as quickly as possible...Headed toward where? I wasn't so sure. That should have been a sign with a capital S, you know?
Things became more clear one day when I was helping out another doctoral student with a project. Playing the grad student's time-honored part-time role as research guinea pig, I remember filling out a form that was supposed to assess one's creative achievements (and presumably correlate those achievements with other indicators of qualitatively "productive" life). "Have you ever written or published a book?" It asked. "Have you ever had a painting exhibition?" Etc. To every question I had to truthfully answer "No," but in doing so I felt a pang of regret. These were things I suddenly and sincerely found myself needing to do. "This is me! This is me!" I declared to myself, really for the first time in my adult life. The New England air, far from anyone's conception of oppressive, suddenly felt lighter, crisper, friendlier.
Class started feeling not so essential to attend. I justified habitual tardiness by telling myself that most lectures, or distillations of them, were on powerpoint presentations online. And reading...with reading, I told myself, I could always write the papers and get through class. Passing wouldn't be a problem. Armed with these fantasies, I made Cambridge and greater Boston my skipping playground, and they were unbelievably welcoming: I made near-daily pilgrimages to the Fogg, Gardner, Museum of Fine Arts, and Institute for Contemporary Arts, bringing a little Bristol sketch pad and some beaten up old pencils. For hours at a time, I could sit next to a Whistler painting, for instance, and be perfectly happy, rediscovering the sensation of gradually weaving the threads of the mind's eye onto a cheap piece of newsprint. Pure bliss. Pure bliss.
That semester I started publishing satirical cartoons for a grad student humor periodical. One of my pieces was of four little polar bears sitting atop each other's shoulders on a teeny iceberg. Each bear had a flag with a single letter on it—together they spelled "HELP." At the time, Harvard's new president was unrolling a new "Green Campus" initiative, and as part of that, one of the department's charged with developing ideas for sustainability had a cartoon contest. On a whim, I entered my piece. While it didn't win, I was later told by the contest organizer that the president thought it particularly compelling (and "cute," a term I've come to fully embrace over time).
Something in me—I don't know whether it was the recency of Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" or the ecstasy of needing to give voice to something that's been percolating inside for quite some time—couldn't just let the polar bears' story end at that. I saw them on that page, depicted with minimal line, in jet black India ink, and I knew their world. There was the iceberg, evanescent, melting ever so assuredly into the ocean... I had to try, however I could, to communicate to children this story: These are the bears. They once had an endless expanse of blue and icy-green on which to roam and frolic, and yet this paltry cube is all they have. We have the power, right now, collectively, to resurrect things. Shall we do it? Let's try our best, ok?
With the bears and all the future stories I imagined them preceding, I saw what I wanted to be my life, my orb, and I knew I wouldn't want to speed through it, as I did with the dissertation I never had time to complete.
ILLUSTRATIONS FROM "ART WITH CLAUDE" BY KYLE SKOR
A Note from Linda & Little Bear:
"Art with Claude" is a fun, playful way to introduce kids to the art world, starting with thoughts about the meaning of art and taking kids through beautiful images and ideas of many different artistic styles.
Little Bear was very excited throughout this vibrant exploration of art. He's since been exploring many art forms. In the end, he says he enjoys every style of art, but his favorite pieces are the ones with bears in them. (Though he's not a fan of modern art that merely suggests a bear or makes him have to figure out if it's supposed to be a bear.) So, of course, we're pleased to announce that our next blog will feature artwork from one of Kyle's other books: "The Bears of Snowflake"! (:3
Kyle Skor (b. 1983) is an American artist and author-illustrator. He grew up in a small river town on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River, and spent his later adolescence in Massachusetts at Williams College and Harvard, where he was a Presidential Fellow. He lives and works in Beijing. Those interested in seeing more of Kyle's work can visit his Author Page.