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  • Writer's pictureSue Pickering

News, Muse & Inspiration 11: Eric Carle and The Hungry Caterpillar

At a recent art event I was asked about artists who have inspired my work. It was a busy event and my mind just went blank. Then, out of nowhere a name appeared. My answer to the question was "Eric Carle".

Of course, had I thought about it a bit longer, I could have come up with a long list of artists whose work inspires mine. But, as a reflected on the answer I gave, I realised that it wasn't such a strange response at all. Eric Carle had indeed been the very FIRST artist whose work had inspired me. And this happened when I was only 3 years old and received my copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar from my cousin, back in 1971.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a great book for small children. It has a brilliant story, beautiful images, and the extra thrill of being able to put your finger in the holes where the caterpillar has eaten his way through the many delicious foods. But for me, just opening the cover and seeing this pattern (below) was one of the most important things that I have ever experienced. 51 years on, the influence that this has had on my work is clear. (And I haven't actually looked at this book for years...)

If you want to find out more about Eric Carle I would recommend visiting the website of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The museum is based in Amherst, Massachusetts in the USA, so sadly too far for me to visit easily from Bristol in the UK.

The Museum website has lots of interesting information, including the fact that The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into 66 languages and sold over 50 million copies since it was published in 1969. Eric Carle has illustrated more than seventy books, many best sellers, most of which he also wrote, and more than 152 million copies of his books have sold around the world.

But what interested me most on this website was the information about Eric Carle's creative process. I always imagined that he used collage, but what fascinated me most was that Carle used a process very similar to the one that I am using in my own work today:

To create his signature collages, Carle painted acrylic on white tissue paper to achieve vibrant colors and patterns. Each piece was an abstract work of art that he could cut and use in a collage.

The papers in this image look very similar to the ones in my collage papers boxes. The process of using richly pigmented transparent or translucent acrylic paint and ink on wet-strength tissue paper produces those jewel-like colours that are a feature of Eric Carle's work - and my own.

I got to experience Eric Carle's work a second time when my children were little. Thanks to them we got to know The Bad Tempered Ladybird and The Very Quiet Cricket. Technology had advanced, and we found a video featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories (narrated by Roger McGough and Juliet Stevenson) which brought all of those colourful images to life with words and music.

My children are now grown up, but I will never part with my battered old copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I will always be indebted to Eric Carle - the first artist to inspire me!

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