The art of wordless storytelling at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

David Wiesner & The Art of Wordless Storytelling opens at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on Sunday.

The new exhibit includes nearly 80 original watercolors handmade by artist and children’s book writer, David Wiesner. Three of his books, Tuesday (1992), The Three Pigs (2002) and Flotsam (2007), received the Caldecott Medal. 

His most recent project and first graphic novel, Fish Girl, comes out in March.

KCRW’s Larry Perel visited the Museum of Art to speak with Wiesner before the show opens.


David Wiesner shows off his artwork and sketchbook, both on display at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. (Larry Perel/KCRW)

On making Tuesday

Tuesday was the place where I really pulled together my love of comic books storytelling, humor, and some of my visual obsessions like things flying that don’t normally fly. There’s something visually compelling about stuff that doesn’t fly, up in the air. It’s certainly something I encountered as a kid looking at the surrealists, who were a huge influence on what I do.

I was drawing a series of frogs, and I drew one on a lily pad, and all of a sudden, I had that moment. The shape it made looked a lot like a flying saucer.”

David Wiesner, Tuesday, pg. 1, 1991. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

On being influenced by Salvador Dali

“Dali is someone who returned, again and again, to similar themes. In Honey is Sweeter than Blood (below), I love the way the human body is almost broken up, reassembled and changed in various ways. It’s a theme he comes back to. I love that he’s incorporated clouds and this skyscape, because clouds are something I’ve explored, especially in Sector 7. From the direct strangeness of his imagery, to just his thematic material, it really touched me. It validated what I inherently wanted to do.”

Salvador Dalí, Honey is Sweeter than Blood, 1941. Oil on canvas. SBMA.

On combining the strange with the ordinary

“I want the fantasy I think about to happen in ordinary, everyday situations. In my book, June 29th, 1999, giant vegetables come floating out of the sky and plop down in your backyard in landscapes all over the country. There’s something about creating a believable and familiar world and then introducing another element that doesn’t fit there – that juxtaposition is fascinating to me.

In this page from Flotsam (below), I had to come up with a story reason for why all that furniture would get underwater. In the background, you’ll see a moving van, which came off a shipping container probably. The octopuses went in, helped themselves to this living room set and set it up. This domestic scene combines the strange with the ordinary. That’s a combination that really appeals to me.”

David Wiesner, Flotsam, pg. 19, 2006. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
David Wiesner, Fish Girl, pg. 168-169, 2016. Watercolor and ink line on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Wiesner’s first graphic novel, Fish Girl, comes out in March 2017. He’ll be at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art leading a tour and book signing on March 9th.

To check out our other museum tours, click here.