Earth Day memory

The metaphorical awards shelf here in the expansive world headquarters of Tomorrowco Industries has grown happily crowded over the years — the Pulitzer nod, the Herblock, a couple of RFKs, the Aaronsen, the Society of Illustrators medal, and a few others. But the first award I ever won for my art was on Earth Day, 1970, at Roosevelt Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa. All the kids submitted designs for an Earth Day button, which would be copied off and distributed to the class. Mine won, mainly because it was the most colorful, but this was back before color xerox, let alone laser printers, and I remember wondering how the teachers were going to reproduce it without losing the vibrancy of the art. Since the teachers at Roosevelt Elementary School did not, in fact, have access to four-color printing technology, they traced it and ran it off on the school mimeograph ditto machine, and I can still remember the bitter disappointment of seeing my bright, colorful design reduced down to smudgy blue ink. It was my first taste of every print artist’s lifelong struggle with the tension between idea and execution, between original concept and reproduction technology. It’s a battle I’m still fighting 45 years later, every time I put out a book or anything else on dead tree media.