Cordell’s “drawing and drawing again” Appeals to a Broad Spectrum of Readers

Mia Wong, Staff Artist for Spokesman

Princeton Day School celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its “Imagine the Possibilities” guest artist series with Matthew Cordell’s gallery exhibit, “drawing and drawing again.” This exhibit not only showcases Mr. Cordell’s talents as an illustrator and author of children’s books, but also has an interactive aspect. “His drawing technique, as eluded to in the title of the exhibit drawing and drawing again, is to make a drawing, scan it, print it, trace it over a second drawing and rescan and reprint the drawing again,” said Director of Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery Jody Erdman. “I have a stack of Mr. Cordell’s drawings on one of the desks. Students are tracing his drawings, tracing a second drawing over that again and again and creating their own Matthew Cordell illustrated stories. Some of these can be seen hanging on the gallery walls,” she added.

Mr. Cordell’s watercolor and sketch-like technique breathe life into his illustrations, sparking imagination in young children and causing older audiences to both reminisce about childhood years of bright rainbow- hues, and appreciate the significance of the illustrations with grown-up eyes. Adult audiences can also appreciate the nostalgia triggered by beholding this exhibit. Mr. Cordell’s illustrations, with their simple yet expressive details, speak to a range of audiences. In the words of Ms. Erdman, “His artistic style reminds me of William Steig’s artistic style; the creator of Shrek!”

Mr. Cordell’s work as a graphic designer carries over into his work as an illustrator. In his book hello! hello!, which he both illustrated and authored, his use of space carries the book’s message beyond its words and illustrations. Large pockets of negative space loom ghost-like over the book’s opening pages, where the main character, a little girl, fails to find conversation, creativity, and interest in technology and those immersed in it. When entering into nature and her own imagination, the little girl finds the inspiration that technology lacks. Mr. Cordell complemented this scene with pages filled with a bright range of colors and a varied collection of animals. While also encouraging children and adults alike to go outside and experience the world, the book’s open- ended minimalism allows for personal interpretation and imagination. Even the absence of words conveys meaning: the uninhibited sprawl of illustration, that fills the book’s end pages, suggests themes of imagination and personal interpretation. Third grade teacher Bev Gallagher, who runs the “Imagine the Possibilities” program, praised Mr. Cordell’s work, noting his “playfulness and themes of friendship – but also how his books can be very poignant as well.”

A great book of poems, If You Were a Chocolate Mouse, is another must- see. It interweaves comical illustrations with deeper messages, such as the value of doing your own work, expressed in “The Backward Man,” and being self-assured in your own quirks, portrayed in “Never Eat Your Pretzels Straight.” Matthew Cordell’s illustrations give expression to the poems and add an even deeper meaning: the foolishness of the backward man seemed evident to dog and birds in the illustration for The Backward Man.

Most notable in the exhibit would be in the back, where Ms. Erdman collaborated with Matthew Cordell to recreate his artist’s studio. “I have printed a poster,” Ms. Erman explained, “with images of his actual studio and hung that in the art gallery. In the back of the art gallery, I placed books, desks, lamps, chairs and art supplies to recreate his actual studio.”

This exhibit provides a fruitful experience whether one is an inquisitive Lower School student, teacher, meandering Upper School student, curious artist, or nostalgic adult.