Writing and illustrating children’s books is one of the most competitive fields in all the arts. Everyone thinks it looks easy and many think they can do it. Mary Haverfield of Dallas has been illustrating for more than 20 years. She is the author of a picture book, Harriett the Homeless Raccoon, written when her son was 3 and published after he turned 21. Her latest project is Moonbird Moonbird Fly Away With Me, a coloring and creativity book designed to engage kids interactively with the Nasher Sculpture Center’s permanent collection. It was written by Bebra Bayne and is available at the Nasher’s onsite gift shop and its NorthPark Center store.
Photo by Pat Haverfield
Did you want to be an illustrator when you were a little kid?
I started drawing as a little kid, and I started drawing largely because my mom read to me so much and we had some fabulous books. I went to junior high and high school in New Jersey, and I had a great art teacher. This guy would take us to New York on field trips, and to the shore to paint, and to Philadelphia to the museums. He was a working artist as well, so he taught us that you could be a graphic artist or a designer or an illustrator, and all different kinds of illustrator. Then when I was halfway through high school I realized that’s what I wanted to study. I came down to the University of Houston to go to art school.
Why did you choose the University of Houston?
I wanted to go to Syracuse, and I got accepted but we couldn’t afford it. Houston had a good art department. I did know I wanted to be an illustrator; I didn’t want to be a fine art painter. I could afford it, and it had everything I wanted – it was a university instead of just an art school. I had it in my head that if I got to school and didn’t like art that I’d have other avenues, whereas if I just went to an art school, I wouldn’t.
When I started, I was doing advertising and greeting cards. I had done some pictures for friends when they were having babies, like Mother Goose and Humpty Dumpty. Art directors always liked those the best – they said that was my better work. So I took a year off after we moved to Dallas, and I did Jack and the Beanstalk, 11 pictures, to develop my own style. Then a printer here, Ussery Printing, wanted to make it a promotion piece. We got the paper donated, we got a separator and a calligrapher and my illustration and my design, and they all used it for their promotion piece. That was my first big thing, that got me some advertising and things. Then I went to New York in 1982 and showed my portfolio, and I got my first book.
What age would you say Moonbird Moonbird Fly Away With Me is intended for?
We’re saying 3 or 4 to about 12, because it’s not a normal coloring book. It asks kids to do things and try things and imagine things. The Nasher and all art museums can be kind of imposing – the main theme was to make it more accessible to kids, kind of take ‘em on a journey of what an artist goes through and how an artist comes up with a sculpture.
While you were working on the book, did you have any kind of urge to sculpt?
No, I can’t say that I did. This was a long process with the Nasher. Bebra is a copywriter for all of their ads: radio, tv and print. We originally went to them with a storybook about Mr. Nasher. He grew up in Boston and fell in love with art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We devised a whole story around that and they liked it but said they didn’t want to do that right now. They had just approved a coloring book. So we ran home, and she wrote the coloring book and I did some sample pieces. First we went through the whole collection trying to find kid-friendly sculpture, because some of them wouldn’t translate well. The first day [of the Nasher Five Year Celebration], they were giving the books away free to anyone under 12 who did the scavenger hunt. We signed 350 books that day. We had kids up to high school that wanted them – I’m really pleased about that.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.