When I was young I was a reluctant reader. It was hard for me to sit still and read a book. I preferred activities that got me moving, like neighborhood ball games, bike riding, skiing, sledding, skating, climbing trees, and exploring the woods in Connecticut where I grew up.
I also liked to tinker. I made skateboards with wheels from old roller skates. I made a unicycle with a wheel from my sister's tricycle. I made stilts from sticks I found in the woods. Hours flew by as I sawed, hammered, drilled, glued, sanded, fastened, painted, and tried out my creations until my arms were sore and my fingers calloused.
As my projects came to life, so did my imagination. To others I must have appeared completely lost in my thoughts. I didn't always complete my projects, nor were they always successful. But I was learning how the world works. I learned how to solve problems, overcome disappointment, and think creatively on my own.
I taught myself to draw. I became fascinated with shapes, shading, and trying to make the objects in my drawings appear to pop out in 3-D. Later I became interested in photography, an art form remarkably compatible with my other interests. I took pictures in the woods with my camera, tinkered with equipment in the darkroom, experimented with artistic effects.
Much later I became the photographer of the I Spy books. But I did more than take the pictures. I thought of ideas, sketched ideas, collected props, made props, built sets, arranged objects, hid objects, adjusted lights, and then took a picture. Then I rearranged objects and took another picture — sometimes over and over again. In the process my imagination came alive and I got deeply lost in my thoughts. Sound familiar?
Yes, there is a lot of that child in me when I work. But as an adult I seek to make the experience of looking at my creations as exciting to others as it is to me. I'm not sure I always accomplished that when I was young. Another difference: I always finish my projects.
I was lucky to have an experienced children's author and educator, Jean Marzollo, as my creative partner on the I Spy books. I had made many picture puzzles before I Spy, but I had never worked on a children's book. Jean showed how I Spy's educational benefits could be wrapped in entertaining fun. We worked hard to achieve those goals with each new book. Without that wisdom and her excellent vocabulary-building riddles, I Spy would not be the award-winning series it is today.
I write as well as illustrate my own books now. In A Drop of Water, I combine simple text with clear photographs to explain science secrets of the everyday world. In Walter Wick's Optical Tricks, the everyday world is turned upside down with impossible objects, phantom images, and other perplexing illusions. With the Can You See What I See? series, I continue the picture-puzzle tradition, taking readers on ever more amazing adventures of the imagination in their quest for hidden objects.
When I do talks in schools I challenge students to solve puzzles. The teacher is often surprised to see how certain kids whiz through the puzzle in front of the whole assembly. When that kid swaggers back to his or her seat with high fives all the way, I think of the recognition I got for my talent when I was young. Not for high marks on a report card, but for learning how to solve problems and think creatively on my own. It's my mission to stimulate that kind of learning with my books.
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