Matt Tavares has a simple way to introduce his career to a room full of children: “I have a very cool job.”
And he does. Tavares is an illustrator and author of children’s books. He has published 19 books and won several awards. He spoke to a gathering of children and their families in DC recently at a “Whittle Readers” event, hosted by the Whittle School and Studios.
“I get to spend most of my days drawing and writing stories— the same stuff I liked to do as a kid,” Tavares told the children at the event. “I feel lucky. But it takes a lot of work.”
Tavares grew up near Boston and loved the Red Sox. He spent much of his early art exploration working on drawings of baseball players. He would often try to recreate images from photos or newspapers. When one childhood drawing came out particularly well, he was really proud and inspired to do more.
Thus the young artist was born.
He took art lessons and went on to major in studio art in college. Tavares’s career in children’s literature hatched in his senior year of college, when for his senior thesis he chose to write and illustrate a story. True to his baseball roots, he centered the story around a boy who caught a magic foul ball at a Boston Red Sox game.
Three years and many revisions later, that project became his first published picture book, Zachary’s Ball.
The magic of hard work
As part of the demonstration for his audience, Tavares took a sharpie to a large piece of paper for a sketch. He drew a series of simple shapes: an oval, a circle, several triangles. And then like an art magician, he made those shapes into an illustration of a cardinal in flight.
But Tavares was sure to explain to the children that it’s not all magic. He researches the people, places, and animals that become the subjects of his stories. His drawings can take days to complete and still need revision before publication.
For the text of the story, he described a lengthy process of writing and rewriting each sentence, passing ideas back and forth with his editors.
“I do this as my job and I still never write a story where everything comes out perfectly,” Tavares said.
For our part, my son and I were both inspired and in awe at the studio event. As soon as we got home, my 8-year-old got out paper and started to try to draw a bird. His shapes did not come together quite as magically as those of Tavares, and he got frustrated. But now I had a reply for his frustration: remember, that illustrator is an expert at this and a professional, and he still said it takes hard work and corrections to get things right!
Whittle School and Studios
Tavares spoke in DC as a guest of Whittle School and Studios, a new private school slated to open next fall in DC. They are hosting a series of events and studios at their elegant office and promotional space in the Mazza Gallerie mall in Friendship Heights, DC. The next event, this Saturday, Feb. 16 from 10:30 am – 12:30 am, will bring in author and illustrator Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. The events are open and free to the public and they kindly ask that you register for these events in advance.
The school itself will be in the Van Ness neighborhood, at the site of the massive former Intelsat building on Connecticut Avenue. An ongoing $187 million renovation will turn the building into a campus for ages 3 through grade 12, including options for boarding school.
The founder of the school, Chris Whittle, is a former media executive who has since turned his vision toward education. After founding Edison Schools, in the 1990s, and helping cataylyst the charter school movement, Whittle launched Avenues, an independent school in Manhattan, which is now recognized as one of the best schools in New York City. The plan for his new, eponymous school is to create a single “modern, global school” with multiple campuses around the world.
Whittle’s grand vision with an impressive team is to “reimagine education” and help learners achieve excellence in at least “one loved, purposeful pursuit,” according to the school literature.
Two campuses will open in the fall: one in Washington, DC and one in Shenzhen, China. The DC campus, with tuition upwards of $40,000 a year, will service students ages 3 through grade 10, and offer Chinese language immersion for the younger students.