Local Talk: Q+A with local Montclair artist Nancy Pi-Sunyer

Tell us a bit about how you started as an artist.

I started as an artist at George Inness and Montclair High. Loved my art classes there and started out in college as an Art major at Boston University. BU wasn’t the right school for me, art-wise, so I switched majors. I always kept up with art: sketching and drawing and eventually was able to do illustrations for many of the publications I wrote at the various universities where I was on faculty. 


Who and what are your greatest inspirations in the art OR design space?

I have fairly eclectic tastes in art. I love the Impressionists and some of the old masters, especially Vermeer and Botticelli. I think it is their sense of light and detail I most admire. I adore Gaudi’s playfulness and Picasso’s graphic strength. As I have grown up, though, the artists that have probably given me the most pleasure are those who have illustrated children’s books that I love:  N.C. Wyeth, Holling C. Holling, Arthur Rackham, Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak and Jerry Pinkney, among many others. 


What is the feeling you wish to evoke when people interact with your art?

The feeling I wish to evoke when people interact with my art is a sense of wonder and happiness. I try to make my art scientifically accurate, but with a degree of liveliness and emotion. Many of my mice are curious. A few are scared. Some are pensive. I try to make them engaging, without making them too human. I strive to avoid dressing them, unless there is a reason to.


Please tell us what inspired your current Mouse Project.

The Mouse Project was my 2016 exercise to improve my drawing skills. I made the commitment to draw, paint or collage a mouse everyone of the 366 days in that Leap Year. Each mouse was inspired by different muses: sometimes something that I had seen or experienced. Many mice were inspired by some event that happened, either recently or historically on the day it was drawn.  Some related to a person who was born on that day. Many of the Mousekin drawings were related to some official or unofficial holiday found on some official or unofficial website. All of this is practice to move me toward my goal of writing and illustrating an award-winning children’s book: a goal of mine since I first learned of The Caldecott Awards when I was in college.


What was the greatest thing you learned about yourself through this project?

The greatest thing I learned about myself doing The Mouse Project was that, despite my frequent self-flagellation about weakness of will when I can’t keep away from the chocolate dish for an hour, if I set myself a specific goal, I can achieve it. I DID do a mouse for everyone of the 366 days and only three were not done on the day they should have been. I also confirmed what teachers had told me. If you draw every day your work improves exponentially. 


What brought you and your family to Montclair?

I guess I am more local than Local. My grandparents came to Montclair around the turn of the 20th century. My mother’s father was a minister at First Congregational Church and ministered to their Pilgrim Chapel (now Bright Hope Baptist Church) beginning in 1907. He eventually became the senior pastor at Watchung Avenue Congregational Church which stood where the Montclair Community Church now stands.  My father’s family moved to Montclair in 1911 when my dad was 7. His father had been called to be Dean of The College of Pharmacy at Columbia University in New York that year. My mother was born in Montclair as were two of my uncles and both of my siblings.  Although I was away from here after graduating from college, I returned in around 1995 to care for my parents in their final years. In another three years my family will have lived in the house we call home for 100 years. 


Tell us something about Montclair that perhaps local people may not know.

Across the street from Local you will see the memorial flagpole in Watchung Plaza.  The pole is dedicated the veterans from Montclair who died in action in WWI. In the base, along with the names of the twelve, rest a dozen roses, one in memory of each young man. For this reason, the rose garden at the base of the flagpole, has special meaning. 


What does local (the concept) mean to you?

“Local” means “from this immediate vicinity”. I like that Local is helping people get to know one another in their space, and helping to build community in this neighborhood.  Just meeting and chatting with neighbors is fun. That Robert and Adele are also featuring local artists is awesome. It is so nice to have a LOCAL showcase for my art. I hope I get to do it again in the future with a different series of illustrations. Fern, the hedgehog is looking forward to meeting you all. 


What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I am thrilled that Adele and Robert have delicious hot chocolate. I’m sure I’ll check out various teas and iced teas in the summer. But hot chocolate with monkey bread is my current favorite treat at Local. All success to you and your new venture. 


Find Nancy's work here: http://nancyarnypi-sunyer.blogspot.com/