Although many Americans have fond childhood memories of the comical drawings in the Busytown books, I don’t think I saw a Richard Scarry illustration until fifteen years ago when my kids were old enough to appreciate them. At first I just thought the drawings were funny, but the more I read the books, the more I was convinced that Scarry was a highly creative artist.
I had long wondered if he’d imagined the boats that he drew in addition to the (gender-stereotyped) wacky characters and vehicles. But then a few summer ago, I went to the Netherlands and England, where I realized that although the drawings of pickle mobiles and pencil cars did take some creativity, he was actually quite adept at drawing real European things- especially boats. It dawned on me that he must have spent a lot of time there.
When I looked at his drawings, through my sailor’s eyes, I became aware that he knew something about boats- they weren’t just goofy sketches. (OK, well they were goofy, but they had the mark of someone with first-hand knowledge.)
And I can see where he got his color inspirations. Europeans apparently aren’t as worried as us Americans about having their craft labeled as clown boats.
The titles of his books like The Busytown Regatta, Pie Rats Ahoy, and Boats should have been clinchers for me. They showed his grasp of the details. Even if the cabin above is a little undersized, the mast hoops and blocks on the fishing boat didn’t end up there by accident.
And those mildly overloaded lifeboats, certainly came from Amsterdam (minus the wine bottles):
For such a prolific writer, there’s not a lot of info about him on the web. I eventually tracked down a milquetoast biography, that had some facts (even if it lacked any critical commentary) about his life and work, which noted that he spent many years from the 1960’s on, living in France, Switzerland, and visiting other places around the world. And most importantly, it noted that he was a boater.
It would have been fun to sketch while sailing along with him. Instead, I just chuckle and admire his maritime art when I come upon those old books that my kids are now too old to enjoy.