My entry for the 2013 SCBWI Tomie dePaola Award.

Papercutting is an art form that has been practiced for centuries in many different cultures throughout the world. Being a bit biased, I am particularly drawn to the Southern American heritage of artform of silhouette. A few months ago we discovered this Carew Rice paper cut:

Charleston Gate • Carew Rice • 1933
Charleston Gate • Carew Rice • 1933

Rice, a South Carolina native who has been hailed as “America’s Greatest Silhouettist” by the poet Carl Sandberg, was extremely prolific with the medium and brought sophistication and prominence to the technique. The practice derived its name from Eteinne de Silhouette, the French finance minister under Louis XV who imposed high taxes. Since paper-cuts were a more economical way of obtaining a portrait at the time, the business thrived and became a symbol of the economic times, thus forever linking the same “silhouette” with the practice. Silhouettes arrived in America and quickly became the rage in the 18th and 19th century until photography took the forefront. It is now revered for its aesthetic charm and elegant simplicity.

SCBWI‘s annual Tomie dePaola Award is given annually to an SCBWI member illustrator that demonstrates potential and is chosen by Tomie dePaola. The award grants tuition, transportation and accommodations to the New York Winter Conference held in Manhattan, and the winning piece is featured at the annual winter conference in New York.

The guidelines for this year’s award were to pick any passage from any one of the following novels: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain), Little Women (Alcott), The Yearling (Rawlings) The artwork must be in black and white, including half-tones.

This inspired me to pay homage to the southern heritage of paper cutting and the silhouette artform with Mark Twain‘s classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. My intention was to create two narratives. One being a silhouette depiction of the scene, which takes place in chapter 9, and then another on top of that, which is a commentary on the practice of paper cutting depicted by the rendering of the scissors and the framed silhouette portrait of the author. I chose to lay the text in white on top of the black to further intensify the horrific action the boys are witnessing in the graveyard.


Tomie dePaola, reknowned for his books for children, is an illustrator who has been published for over 40 years and has written and/or illustrated nearly 250 books with over 15 million copies of his books sold worldwide. His work and achievements have been recognized with the Smithson Medal from the Smithsonian Institution, the Kerlan Award from the University of Minnesota for his “singular attainment in children’s literature,” and the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association. He was also the United States nominee in 1990 for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in illustration. The American Library Association has honored him with a Caldecott Honor Book, a Newbery Honor Book, and the 2011 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”

Tomie financially provided the award until 2011 when SCBWI assumed it in recognition of Tomie’s outstanding contribution to SCBWI and to the member illustrators in particular. He has been a member of the Board of Advisors, aided in changing the name of the original organization to include illustrators, founded the Illustrator’s Committee of the SCBWI board, and taught the first master class at an SCBWI conference.

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