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G is for Gibbes: A Museum ABC Book Launch!

We are thrilled to announce our newest publication here at the Gibbes Museum, G is for Gibbes: A Museum ABC Book! This beautiful children’s book engages readers with works of art from the Gibbes Museum’s permanent collection, as well as broader art terms such as abstract art, colors, impressionism, drawing, and landscape. The book also introduces readers to less familiar terms such as miniature portraits and restoration. G is for Gibbes allows children to experience the joy of visiting an art museum through the eyes of the Gibbes Gator and learn to love the alphabet in a whole new way.

We caught up with author Cathy Jenrette and designer/illustrator Erin Banks to learn more about the book and how it came to life!

What made you decide to write an ABC book, and why did you choose the Gibbes as your inspiration?

Cathy: I have been mulling over the idea of a Gibbes ABC book for a while, and have looked at other museums–the Met, for example–to see what they have. I wanted something more representative of the Gibbes’s unique collection. This is my love letter to the Gibbes, for its collection and also for its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Erin: I’ve actually been illustrating children’s books since 2005. G is for Gibbes is lucky book #6 for me! Although it is my first ABC book. And it is also the first book that I’ve designed from cover to cover.

How did you decide what animals or works of art to feature?

Erin: This was a wonderfully collaborative project. Cathy and I worked closely with each other and our amazing editorial duo, Becca Hiester and Sara Arnold. We identified works that were significant to the Gibbes permanent collection and agreed that these pieces would be key visuals throughout the book (although not beholden to the actually floorpan of the Gibbes). Early in the process we talked about casting the Gibbes Gator as our hero. We created the Gibbes Gator a few years ago as the mascot for Gibbes education programming. He has made appearances on summer camp postcards and kid smocks and coloring pages. So it seemed natural for the Gator to lead us on this ABC journey. We decided to use animals characters in an effort to create an imaginative world that is diverse and accessible for children. We really wanted young readers to be open-minded about the experience of visiting a museum, and the juxtaposition of animal visitors walking through illustrated galleries seemed like the perfect way to be inclusive and inspiring. Many of the characters are “spirit animals” that were chosen to represent Cathy’s grandchildren, my three girls, and even cameos for our editors Becca and Sara (see the cat/dog duo in the “Writing about Art” spread).

Cathy: To piggyback on Erin’s question about deciding the animals and art, Erin and I both emphatically agreed that we wanted diversity represented in our book, and she had the wonderful idea of using different animals to represent that quality. I asked the seven grandchildren and Buddy and I have between us what “spirit animals” would represent them, and Erin included those, as well as some important to her. Becca and Sara helped edit references to Gibbes-specific works of art and general art terms to feature.

Describe the process of writing and illustrating a book.

Cathy: The ABC format is traditional, so the process for the text just involved refining and revising the ideas I originally had for the letters.

Erin: The Gibbes ABC Book has been in the works for nearly two years. After assembling our Dream Team, the first step was to clarify the concept — an illustrated alphabet book that would introduce readers to the museum experience, using the Gibbes as the setting and featuring works from our permanent collection. Cathy wrote the manuscript, a delightful collection of words that ranges from broad art terminology to lesser-known terms (such as Restoration and Miniature Portraits). Once the text was finalized, I created rough thumbnail sketches to help get a sense of the overall layout and word flow. The next step was to draw tighter sketches using lots of reference images from the Museum as well as the permanent collection. I wanted to create an environment that would be familiar to Gibbes visitors, and would act as a believable setting for our illustrated characters. We met periodically to review sketches, knowing that all of the edits made during the sketching phase would help strengthen the quality of the final art. After the sketches were approved, I dived into inking and coloring the illustrations. In many cases I worked on more than one spread at a time, to keep a consistent color palate and continuity between pages. While I was illustrating the book, I also began working on the text layout, always striving to be mindful of how the text would interact with images. The final (and most fun) stage was pairing text with the finished illustrations. Throughout the process, I also worked on the logistics — finding the right printer, obtaining an ISBN number, determining copyright information, and eventually uploading the book for production.

What aspect of this process was the most fun for you?

Cathy: The most fun for me has been the collaboration with Erin, Sara, and Becca! It was a thrill to see Erin’s illustrations progress–she is a genius. We were always on the same wave-length throughout the iterations, which was a joy.

Erin: Seeing the book in print! There are so many details that need to come together, and I confess that I extended the deadline on more than one occasion. But it is so rewarding to see a book come alive after all of these months of work. While I was working on the book, my daughters (ages 4, 6, and 8) enjoyed looking for the little lizard hidden in every sketch. So it was fun watching them find the lizard in pages of the printed book — and in a few cases discovering other details that they had requested (except for the pink tiger that didn’t make the final cut…)

What is your favorite letter (or scene) from the book and why?

Cathy: it’s very hard to choose a favorite–I love each page! I think maybe the “V is for Visiting Artists” scene, with all the animals engaging with the artist–including the bear, who has a fish in his hand! I also love the little lizard cameos throughout the book.

Erin: I love the cover! It gave me the opportunity to incorporate the Charleston skyline as a wraparound element, and I love the energy that makes you want to open the book. Although it’s hard to choose favorites, I think my favorite scene is the “R is for Restoration” spread because it goes behind-the-scenes in the Museum, and I love this little glimpse into the Museum world. I also love the little lizard hammering the base of the sculpture on the righthand page while the Gibbes Gator is working fervently to restore a frame on the lefthand page. It just makes me smile.

Join us here at the Gibbes Museum on Saturday, December 7th at 2pm for a special reading of the book with the author and be the first to purchase a copy of this lovely new publication!

Designer/illustrator Erin Banks and author Cathy Jenrette

Top image: G is for Gibbes: A Museum ABC Book cover

Published December 5, 2019

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