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One holiday, two artists

From left, Richard Jesse Watson and Max Grover show off their respective illustrations of The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, along with several of their other childrens books, at the Arlington Library Dec. 2. -
From left, Richard Jesse Watson and Max Grover show off their respective illustrations of The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, along with several of their other childrens books, at the Arlington Library Dec. 2.
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ARLINGTON A single Christmas poem was the subject of two unique artistic visions Dec. 2 at the Arlington Library, when childrens book illustrates Richard Jesse Watson and Max Grover talked about their respective illustrations of The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore.
Watson and Grover, both residents of Port Townsend, have been friends for years and discussed their contrasting styles to depicting the holiday classic, with Watson describing the research he did while Grover admitted to a more impressionistic approach.
I thought about the different influences of Santa Claus, the different ways he dresses or looks depending upon where you live, Watson said. I also thought about my dad, who was a pilot, and I made the connection that Santa is an aviator.
I paint images that I observe in the world, but I paint them how I remember seeing them, Grover said. I dont look at something while Im painting it.
While Grover was drawn to The Night Before Christmas because of his love of poetry, with its powerful economy of words, Watson was initially hesitant to adapt a work that so many other artists had already interpreted, until he realized how resonant the poem must be, for so many versions of it to be published.
Watsons preparations included making papier-mache models of Santas sleigh, which was based in part on a top-secret rocket sled his father worked on in the Navy, and using reference photographs of family and friends, including Grover, for Santas elves.
He insisted he had to be the elves foreman, so I gave him a hardhat and tool belt, Watson laughed. For the cockpit of the sleigh, I imagined a dashboard with a GPS and abbreviations on the reins for each reindeer.
While Grovers renderings were deliberately less realistic, he built a model of the city blocks that his characters inhabited, to avoid criticism from his discerning young audience.
Children are sharp enough to see inconsistencies, Grover said. In one of my books, I painted octopus overalls, but I gave them nine legs, and a first-grader reminded me that octopi only have eight legs. I wanted to make sure I have every angle of the buildings mapped out, or else Id be hearing about it.
While neither artists output could be mistaken for the other, Watson and Grover are both inspired by the personal and believe in elaborating on text. Watsons photos of visitors to his gallery, from a Japanese woman to a man who dressed in a Leprechaun outfit to pose for him, gave him the idea for an international crew of elves, complete with advance teams of chimney-sweepers and reindeer guiders. As for Grover, he gave his characters the same cat his family had once owned, before it had passed away, and showed it cleaning up the crumbs of Santas cookies at the end.
Your job as an illustrator is not to reiterate the words, but to add information to them, said Grover, who showed his characters recognizing Santas physical description from a chart they carried. When youre an artist, the whole world is raw material.
You may log onto www.richardjessewatson.com and www.maxgrover.com for more information about the artists works.

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