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The Biggest Challenge Yet: Illustrator John Kerschbaum on Drawing the Met

Masha Turchinsky
December 16, 2015

Illustrator John Kerschbaum signing posters at the #MetKids Launch Party. Photograph by Masha Turchinsky

«Let's say you were given the job of drawing the Met, and not just the front of the Museum or its busy steps on Fifth Avenue, but the inside as well. Now, imagine that you were going to draw your own versions of the paintings, sculptures, furniture, tapestries, costumes, and even the jewelry that you found inside. Sounds like a big project, right? Well, there's one person who knows exactly how it feels to take on that challenge.»

John Kerschbaum, an illustrator who lives in New York City, dedicated not hours, days, or months, but several years to drawing the art, spaces, and people he saw at the Met. When he was done, he had drawn a map of the Met that featured hundreds of galleries and thousands of works of art. Thanks to John, now you can visit the Museum anytime you want by exploring the map on your computer or mobile device. I recently sat down with John to talk about the project.

The #MetKids map from the first sketches to the finished map. Video by Emily Sutter

Masha Turchinsky: Have you always been interested in art? How did you decide to become an illustrator?

John Kerschbaum: I've always liked to draw, and I drew a lot growing up. Over time, I got fairly proficient at it. When I graduated from high school and needed to choose a course of study for college [John studied Illustration at Parsons School of Design in New York City!] and a career path, it seemed reasonable to turn an enjoyable preoccupation into an occupation. It's a far more difficult profession than I expected, but I'm still drawing, and I still enjoy it.

John Kerschbaum and his daughter look at the Met's Family Map

John Kershbaum and his daughter at the Museum. Photograph by Marina Zarya

Masha Turchinsky: You drew the Met and a lot of the art inside it; that's a big project. Tell us how you did it. Did you come across any challenges or surprises along the way?

John Kerschbaum: It's by far the biggest, most challenging project I have ever worked on. I walked through the Museum countless times while taking notes. I took thousands of pictures, and drew hundreds of sketches. I researched each section and department of the Museum one by one, and then added that section to the poster.

One of the biggest challenges was keeping up with the Museum itself. Every time I visited, it was different than my previous visit. Paintings would be replaced or relocated in order to display another treasure from the Museum's collection. Overnight, sculptures would move from one place to another. Even the walls and doors appeared to move and change. It was weird; it was like the building was alive.

Masha Turchinsky: Now that you've spent so much time here, do you have a favorite spot or artwork in the Museum to recommend to #MetKids?

John Kerschbaum: I have many favorite pieces, too many to name here, but when I visit, I almost always visit Oceania, and I like the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court. I also like to sketch Perseus every time I visit, but unless I'm going to see a specific exhibition, I usually take a quick look around the Museum and seek out the emptiest gallery. It doesn't matter which one, and it's almost always a different one each time, so, eventually, I got to see everything.

The empty galleries are quieter, which I prefer, because I feel less rushed when I want to stand and linger in front of a piece to really take some time to look at it. There's no need to worry about being in someone's way or blocking someone else's view. No matter how many times I might end up in the same uncrowded gallery, I never fail to find something new or something that I missed the last time I visited. If the gallery I'm in starts to fill up, I look around for a lull somewhere else and linger there for a while.

John Kerschbaum signs the Met's Family Map

John Kerschbaum signs a Met Family Map. Photograph by Filip Wolak

Check out John Kerschbaum's work on #MetKids, as well as in the printed Family Map, available at the Information Desks.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited and abridged from its original version.

Masha Turchinsky

Masha Turchinsky was formerly a senior manager and senior producer of media production and online features in the Digital Department.