Sunday, March 2, 2014

Maira Kalman and Mary Blair

I recently read “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything” by Maira Kalman. It’s basically a short picture book biography of Thomas Jefferson, but with Maira’s wonderful paintings and focus on unique details. This made me wonder, what else has Maira been up to? So I checked out her book, “The Principles of Uncertainty.” This is a great book, based on a column she did by the same name for the New Yorker. It’s essentially a journal and not really a children’s book. With Maira, however, her children’s books have an air of sophistication and her adult books are kooky so it all blends together ultimately.

I remember having read a few of Maira’s children’s books before (The Max series: “Ooh-la-la” etc) but not really liking them that much. Sure, she had a few quirky illustrations, but a lot of it didn’t hang together for me. Her book from 2003, “What Pete Ate from A to Z” I remember as being more cohesive (because it had a format: the alphabet?) Anyway, her artwork has, for me, now reached an amazing level!

Coincidentally, I was flipping through "Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books" and was almost as jazzed-up about her work. I kept thinking , how could I like and be inspired by two artists that are so different? But alas, dear Sherlock, they're not that different. Both of them exude joy and slight zaniness (Maira a bit more perhaps). Also, their color choices are out of this world. Look at the skin tones and lack of blending on Maira's people and the odd color choices for objects (moons, trees etc.) with Mary. Both women, separated by decades and backgrounds have a similar zest for life. 
How inspiring!

In tribute, I thought I’d paint a portrait of Mary Blair if Maira Kalman were to do it. 
An exercise, hopefully not in futility!

Here's a bonus: Maira Kalman giving a TED talk.


  1. Interesting post, Cindy. I'd like to gather some of the titles you mentioned and spend some time looking. Don't really know Mary Blair, so I'll check her out. That retro style is HOT nowadays! Nice painting, and thanks for the food for thought!

  2. Thanks for the visit and a virtual "cuppa". I'm just exploring different illustrators and seeing what jumps out at me. Maira and Mary though very different, have this zest that I admire. Mary was one of the few women animators for Disney.