Meticulous pencil drawing is Jerry Pinkney's way of working - preferably with watercolor added.

Pinkney is a native Philadelphian living in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., and his exhibit "Jerry Pinkney: Aesop's Fables and Other Tails" is at the Brandywine River Museum.

Whimsical and often-funny color drawings are the resource and constant point of reference for this children's book illustrator in midcareer. He's won five Caldecott honor medals, several Coretta Scott King prizes, and two Christopher Awards and has designed 12 stamps for the Postal Service's Black Heritage series.

Pinkney's early attraction to animal subjects soon became the mainstay of his interest as an illustrator, and it has continued. Really astonishing is the amount of careful, finely detailed drawing that goes into each piece, including outline, yet the pencil-work is never lost after watercolor is applied, though that can so easily happen.

These delicate color drawings capture the beauty of animals with an innocent eye. Household pets, barnyard animals, wild creatures - they're all here, and each is personalized. Besides classic Aesop subjects such as

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

and

Tortoise and the Hare

, less familiar ones include a thirsty crow learning how to sip water from a half-empty pitcher, a mouse toting a sleigh bell, and the plight of a country mouse and a town mouse frantically escaping a house cat on the prowl.

Pinkney's work has coalesced into a style distilled from emotions and sparked by an ambiguous tension. Somewhat experimental in his approach to watercolor, yet unrelenting in his use of detail to create gemlike studies, Pinkney combines aspects of romanticism (including flights of fantasy) with a realist's careful search for truth and honesty. Pinkney captivates adults and children alike in this most welcome show.

Brandywine River Museum, Rt 1, Chadds Ford. To March 9. Daily 9:30-4:30. Adults $8. 610-388-2700. The exhibit briefly closes Jan. 7-18, then reopens in expanded form.

Sabine Rose Gallery

. George Thompson, a Doylestown painter of figure and landscape, shows work of both kinds at Sabine that leans heavily on tradition. An artist of stalwart academic sensibilities, this former New York illustrator settled in Bucks County seven years ago to pursue a full-time painting career.

Like a draftsman, he works in a polished style. There are never any loose ends. Some oils have the understated and disarming appearance of simple, formal exercises that make no claim to personal expression or to the attainment of style. However, in other instances, such as a snowy

December Stream

, complexities of form are effectively reinforced by the specifics of their making.

Sabine Rose Gallery, 68 S Main, Doylestown. To Dec. 24. Wed-Thu noon-5, Fri-Sat noon-8, Sun noon-4. Free. 215-489-5700.

MCCC/Pottstown.

There are many reasons several Charles Cushing scenic oil paintings in his Pottstown exhibit may appeal to sophisticated viewers.

Basic traits of the dozen best works in his 36-piece show are that he makes feeling paramount, in a style that's bold rather than mannered. He also fits together images having dreams as their source. His

Pony Express, Capriccio With City Hall Clock Tower

is startlingly surreal in the spooky way it unites several dissimilar buildings, objects and terrains surrounding a displaced and moonlit Philadelphia landmark.

Cushing is on to something with this, as with several of his Tinicum Marsh paintings and a Navajo subject. He's beginning to show power.

Montgomery County Community College's Art Gallery, 16 High St, Pottstown. To Jan. 6. Mon-Thu 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri 8-4:30. Free. 215-619-7349.

Contact art critic Victoria Donohoe at The Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa. 19428.