Born December 22, 1939 in Philadelphia to Willie-Mae, a homemaker, and James, a craftsman, Jerry Pinkney is one of America’s most admired and highly acclaimed illustrator (and often writer) of hundreds of children’s books. He has been described as a master watercolorist.
His elegant and detailed images reflect his passion and desire to share his love for life and community. In particular the rich complexities of the cultures and history of his African American roots, as well as for other cultures that are sometimes not represented in children’s books. Inspired by classic contemporary literature and well-loved folktales, fairy tales and fables his stories often bring to life the small triumphs over something bigger than itself. He has illustrated such old-time favourites as Aesop Fables, Gulliver’s Travels, Hans Christian Andersen’s works, and Rudyard Kipling.
As the middle child of five siblings, Jerry grew up in a small brick row house on a dead-end street in Philadelphia; it was a modest but loving home. His early school years revealed that he suffered from severe dyslexia, which has continued to be, in his words, “a lifelong companion”. However, it was at this young age that he also discovered a rare talent for drawing. He grew up amongst neighbors and extended family where sharing stories was their chief pastime – acted out in living rooms, backyards, front steps and barbershops. These stories transformed everyday life sparking his curiosity and offered an escape which became the base from which he developed his own visual storytelling.
Jerry met his wife Gloria Jean during high school, and they have raised four children together, living in Boston and New York. After earning a scholarship to an arts’ college, he worked for a greeting card company before opening an arts studio in collaboration with two other artists, eventually opening his own freelance studio in 1968.
He was motivated to pursue illustration when struggling with dyslexia and in his words found that, “drawing centred my being and enabled me to focus …drawing shouldered the weight of my deficiency” giving him a sense of wholeness, wellbeing and a calmness. Being labelled a slow reader in childhood, still to this day Jerry finds reading challenging and although he loves to read, like many with dyslexia the energy required to read can be very draining. However, he believes that his dyslexia made him the high achiever he is in his art and helped formed who he is today.
Jerry continues to illustrate books and host a number of exhibitions showcasing his art. His unusually intricate watercolour and pencil pictures have been used to illustrated over 100 children’s books, some of which have been translated into 16 languages and published in 14 countries. His public works include commissions to design stamps for the US Postal Service and collaborations with National Geographic magazine and National Park Services, as well as having taught at colleges and universities.
A self-professed “storyteller at heart” Jerry describes his work as text-inspired, drawing the reader more fully into the world of the story through expressive pictures. His visual storytelling techniques have earned hundreds of awards and glowing reviews.
Pinkney spends a lot of time on researching his work for accuracy, sometimes using live models or acting out the roles himself. He likes to draw animals with human features and which at times involves him imitating and play-acting as that animal to more fully capture the experiences and feeling of it and its environment.
In his career, Jerry has won copious awards and recognitions, had numerous exhibitions and was elected into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of fame. He has permanent artwork in several museums and collections.
Some classic children’s books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney include The Lion and the Mouse
, Noah’s Ark
, Aesop’s Fables
, and The Tortoise and the Hare