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The gift of advice on art and life, in a charming collection of letters.

Book Review: Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator by R.O. Blechman

You may know the author of this slim volume, R.O. Blechman, through his artwork on the cover of the New Yorker. His work also appears in Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and The New York Times. A career in art and animation leaves Blechman qualified to encourage young artists in his craft.

Dear James includes drawings, showing the stages of cartoon development, expansion of thought-bubbles, and a very personal course in art history.

Commencing in 1984, when James, as a young artist sent his drawings to Blechman, James conveyed an eagerness to be a professional illustrator. Whether James is real or fictitious doesn’t change this heart of this lovely story.

Along the way we learn to admire art that is modest, art that says only what it needs to say. And readers, especially young artists, learn to take criticism and bear up with the inevitable rejection form letters, familiar to all writers and artists.

And, advice we can all use:

“When you’re most relaxed, which is to say the least self-conscious, you will be your most creative."

This books makes the rare “perfect gift” for young adults interested in the creative arts. Where else would they learn such valued advice as this:

“Talent is not always narrowly focused. Did a Leonardo know that he must either write or paint or invent?” That he must do either this or that, when he needed to do this and that and that and that?”

Overall, Dear James is a delightful mini-history of the arts, artists and writers, who've excelled at their art, and it provides a sweet lesson in life along the way.

About Helen Gallagher

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