Dear Artist,

When Eric Carle was a little boy, his father would walk with him in the forest near their Syracuse, N.Y. home, where they’d explore the bugs and worms that scurried from beneath pulled-back tree bark and overturned rocks. Afterwards, they’d replace the little creatures’ hiding material. Eric, enchanted with these noble worlds, carried this happy memory into adulthood. He’d been working in the promotions department as a young graphic designer at the New York Times when a children’s author saw one of his drawings and asked him to illustrate a book. Thrilled with this project, Eric decided he wanted to tell stories, too.

Illustration for Draw Me a Star, 1992 (Philomel Books) Collage and paint by Eric Carle (1929-2021)

Illustration for Draw Me a Star, 1992 
by Eric Carle (1929-2021)

When he was six, Eric’s mother, a German immigrant suffering from homesickness, moved the family back to her hometown of Stuttgart. It was 1935, and Eric’s father was drafted into the German army and imprisoned by Soviet Forces in 1945. Eric, who was 15, was conscripted by the Nazis to dig trenches on a 400-mile defensive line in western Germany. His father returned home in 1947 devastated and emaciated. After studying art in Stuttgart, Eric gathered $40 and moved back to New York. Once there, he himself was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War and sent to Germany to work as a mail clerk.

Illustration from “The Very Lonely Firefly”, 1995 Collage by Eric Carle

Illustration from “The Very Lonely Firefly”, 1995
by Eric Carle

By 1969, Eric had returned to America and was freelancing as an illustrator. He’d been punching holes in a stack of paper when the idea came to him of a bookworm who eats a book over the course of a week. The pages would include holes for children to poke their fingers through. When he showed the idea to an editor, she, not fond of worms, asked if he might change his protagonist to a more “likeable” hero. Eric pivoted to a caterpillar who eats his way through increasing quantities of fruit, moves on to decadent desserts and gourmet deli snacks before getting a stomach ache, then switches to leaves, pupates and emerges as a butterfly. He called his story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Illustration from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, 1969 and 1987 Collage by Eric Carle

Illustration from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, 1969
by Eric Carle



PS: “Children need hope.” (Eric Carle)

Esoterica: Eric’s creative process involved channelling himself at six. He painted colour onto tissue paper with his fingers and sponges, then cut and collaged it with wallpaper glue onto an illustrator’s board. He folded eight sheets of paper into 32-page “dummy books,” where he could design a “story in pictures.” He laid transparencies with text over his illustrations, limiting himself to 200 words. If he lost confidence in an idea, he’d put the pages away in a box. If the idea reignited his imagination at a later time, he’d work on it again, sometimes over years, until it became a thing worth sharing. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric’s third of approximately 70 published books (he said he’d lost count at some point), has sold over 55 million copies since it was first published in 1969. “I often think of myself when I was little,” he said. “I had a lot of feelings, philosophical thoughts — at the age of 6! The only way I got older and wiser was that I got better trained. But that brain and soul were at their peak.” Eric Carle passed away on May 23, 2021 at his studio home in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was 91.

llustration from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, 1969 and 1987 Collage by Eric Carle

llustration from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, 1969
by Eric Carle

“What answer to the meaning of existence should one require beyond the right to exercise one’s gifts?” (W. H. Auden)

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“Some children have said to me, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ I consider that the highest compliment.” (Eric Carle)



  1. Rick Charvet on

    For more than 25 years, I dedicated my summer art workshop “Creature Collage” to Eric Carle. Children from 6-11 got to make Eric Carle caterpillars, flowers, horses, hermit crabs — all the little creatures Carle brilliantly illuminated through his collage methods. I had ALL of his books for the children to see and inspire their “unique creatures.” As the children made their unique art, I also taught them about Eric, his childhood, and how he grew up in nature. Prior to each summer, I would set aside 10 foot tables with old paper (from teaching the little artists) and while listening to music create my collage paper for hours. I would create a variety of textures and colors for my next workshop. Eric Carle will be missed as he was not only a big part of all the children in Gilroy, but mine and my own sons. RIP Eric Carle.

  2. I, too, developed many projects around Eric’ method of painting and collaging with tissue paper. I created my own ways of painting it’s delicate surface. I used the collage methods with children and also adults in care facilities and day programs with outrageously creative results on the part of the participants. I believe it is a freeing process. Intrigued, I began to use it in my own artwork and have never stopped. Sometimes it is the “underpainting” – creating texture and color blocks. Sometimes it covers the entire surface with very little paint or other materials added. One bucket list item for me was visiting the museum in Amherst, which I did about 5 years ago. He will always be one of my main influences.

  3. I loved the story of Eric Carle. We all need and probably have tried our hand at all sorts crafts and hobbies It makes us feel connected. The diversions are like mini vacations until you zero in on what want and need.
    Quite a few years ago I remember browsing through a crafts fair and there was an interesting stall with lots of clever and very well made mobiles and bird houses, walking sticks, small stackable pull toys and curio shelves all fashioned out of wood. Just below the makeshift counter was a sign for all to see.
    “ Sure you could make these yourself, but will you?”
    Every time I visit a crafts fair I think of the old guy behind that counter and it keeps me focused on my art and my music .
    I still dabble at creating pergolas and arbours in the garden or a design wall for my wife’s Art Quilts but that old guy helps keeps my “eye on the prize”
    Thank you Sara

  4. What an inspiring story, and life. Thank you for sharing it!

    I live with a cat and a chicken whom I consider family, and I’ve recently thought of compiling a series of illustrated anecdotes from our inter-species experience. Eric’s tale is wonderful encouragement for my project.

  5. Thank you Sara! I was saddened to hear of Eric Carle’s passing, but inspired to learn more about his life. I used tissue collage techniques with my art classes as well and they are a very exciting way to stimulate the imagination – obviously, it allowed him to continue creating with beautiful spontaneity over a long and illustrious career. He entertained and stimulated so many with his vivid colours and simplified text.

  6. Thank you for sharing Eric Carle’s story. I find childlike joy in his art and The Very Hungry Caterpillar was a favorite in our family. Sorry to hear of his passing.

    Interesting how a mundane task like punching holes seemed to offer windows to ideas and how children seemed to inspire his creativity.

    I love this line: “Some children have said to me, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ I consider that the highest compliment.” (Eric Carle)

  7. Rachel Bushnell on

    What a lovely reminder of that little girl inside of me that wants to colour inch high grass on the bottom of the paper and a two inch wide sky at the top and empty flying space in the middle. Sometimes there would be a little house with one door and 2 windows. I did this same picture over and over.

  8. I was a teacher librarian for a few years and remember what fun the youngest children had creating art from the Hungry Cater[pillar story by Eric Carle using tissue paper and acrylic gel medium. My own recent paintings are adorned with collages and stained paper AND I still hark back to the days of creative joys in simple pursuits using Art and Writing to promote the love of Literature .

  9. Fawn Palmer on

    My Mother and I took a holiday to Massachusetts. One of our stops was in Amherst at the Eric Carle Museum. She majored in Applied and Industrial Art, clas of 1953, auniv. of Illinois. Her career was as an occupational and recreational therapist. Her lifelong art endeavor and was wide ranging but she settled on watercoloring by the time she was in her midfifties. I majored in biology-ecology, class of 1980, Pomona College. My career has been with the National Park Service, Va. State Parks, and park commissions as a naturalist ranger, environmental educator, nature adventure camp director, and nature crafts classes leader. After visiting the musrum, my Mom and I collaborated on creating a set of rainforest collage papers like Eric Carle’s. These were punched to make plants and animals for a kit that childten used to make their very own rainforest collages. Highly well received craft. Instantly became part of what our nature venter planned for when putting together the annual Rainforest Day. I miss my Mom and Eric Carle, both now passed away. ‍‍

  10. Audrey Hayward on

    I am happy for the life of Eric Carla who so inspired me and my teaching. I introduced hundreds of children to the art and literature of Eric Carle and in so doing I hope I have inspired one or two artists to pursue a career in the same vein. We have created tissue paper stars and flowers and suns and have watched caterpillars form chrysalids and emerge as butterflies. We have gone on nature walks and seen Luna moths on the school windows and marvelled at their creation. Thank you Eric Carle for everything.

  11. Monica Wiegel on

    His books are purchased for my kids and grandchildren. Baby gifts…. my 12 year old still climbs in to read me books by favorite children’s books author Eric carle. Will continue to treasure his legacy

  12. Peggy Bayne on

    As a school library media specialist, I was determined to visit the Eric Carle Museum. With my husband, high school. daughter and her friend, we sat down and made our own collages there. I was in picture book heaven- a museum for picture book illustration. I’m sure he and the other illustrators I adore are the reason I am taking watercolor classes now.

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Evening-Flight-24-x-18-OC-wpcf_300x300.jpgEvening Flight
oil on canvas
24 x 18 inches

Featured Artist

Essentially I am representational painter, with a real appreciation for the design aspects of abstract art.  By emphasizing strong shape relationships and connecting bands of textural color, I am able to paint the natural world in two dimensional patterns while striving to create interesting three dimensional compositions.  Andrew Wyeth, a realist who has influenced my work, painted very abstract watercolors that helped him explore the possibilities for unusual compositions.  Like him, I value the drama of a strong composition, solid drawing, complex textures, and sumptuous, rich color while attempting to ground the painting’s design in essential, free form shapes.  Past Masters who have shaped my artistic direction are: Joaquin Sorolla, John Singer Sargent, Richard Diebenkorn, and the California impressionists. Richard Schmid is a contemporary painter whose instruction has contributed greatly to my ability to capture the light, intimacy, and subtle textures of the hidden landscapes.
I have found painting landscapes in the field to be an adventure of the mind, spirit, and body. It is a personal record of a distinct moment in time that captures an emotional response to a physical reality. Nature is exciting, unforgiving, yet always spiritually rewarding. I am grateful to be able to share this natural beauty with fellow wanderers hoping to discover those special moments.

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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