The Rural We: Elwood H. Smith
Elwood H. Smith studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Institute of Design at IIT, and worked for eight years as an art director, before deciding to become a full-time illustrator. In 1976, he moved to New York City and established himself in the field, where his work appeared regularly in Time, Newsweek, New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and many other publications, and well as in major advertising campaigns for SONY, Land’s End, TGI Fridays, and other companies and causes. Since then, Smith has illustrated numerous children’s books, and written two musicals for kids with his late wife, Maggie Pickard. He has both written and illustrated his two most recent books, “I’m Not a Pig in Underpants” and “How To Draw With Your Funny Bone.” In 2011, Smith was honored by being the first artist selected for an ongoing series of exhibitions at the Norman Rockwell Museum that showcase outstanding contemporary illustrators. The artist recently moved to Great Barrington, Mass., where he lives with his companion, Janice Kittner, and his three cats. You can keep up with Smith on his blog. On Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4 p.m., he will give an illustrated talk about his life’s work at The Lenox Library.
I was born in the small town of Alpina, Michigan. My parents weren’t interested in culture, but we did get the Detroit Free Press, and I’d read comic books and listen to the radio, and those things influenced me. I was also very much influenced by cartoons; I was born in 1941, so it was things like Krazy Kat and Mutt and Jeff. I started drawing because that’s just something kids do, but I did it maybe longer than other kids did. In high school, I took an art class with a teacher named Nancy Feindt who ended up becoming my mentor, and later, my friend.
In 1976, I moved from the Midwest to New York City, where I met the woman who would become my wife, my business manager and my representative. Five years later, we moved to Rhinebeck where we lived for the next 30 years. After she died, I moved to Great Barrington to be closer to my longtime friends Mary Pope Osborne and her husband, who I met in 1977.
There’s a lot of culture here, good restaurants, good music, and a real sense of community. I illustrate on and off for the New York Times science section, but I mostly enjoy drawing for myself. Right now I’m working on a series called “Death at the Circus.” I also play guitar, I enjoy walking around town, and I consider myself a beer aficionado.
Last year I taught a workshop at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and I’ll be leading another there soon. Unlike most people, my class is not about how to draw in the original sense or about technique. I find people get discouraged because drawing is not an easy task. But we can all draw; we just think we can’t because we’re trying to draw like Michelangelo. I tell them to draw like they did when they were kids — don’t draw things how they looked, draw them how they felt.