Less color is more AND is very appealing.
In most all the reviews for children's picture books, the main portion of the review discusses the writing......well I'd like to reverse that in my reviews....and concentrate on a review of the illustrations, from an artist's perspective. I'll try to tell a little about the book, and then highlight how I see the illustrator "building" the story with his/her illustrations. I'd love to hear if you agree with my summery.....or have other comments.
When No One is Watching by Eileen Spinelli illustrated by David A Johnson
I picked up When No One is Watching at my local library just 'cause I found the main character on the cover very appealing. When I read thru the book's lovely text by Eileen Spinelli I was delighted to see how David A Johnson had picked up on her lyrical text and runnnnnnn with it.
The story has a shy mop-haired little girl narrating how she alternates between her energetic activities when she's alone “when no one is watching” (running, jumping, singing, dancing etc.) and when she's with others...she's a shy wallflower with family, classmates, and playing on the playground. In both situations David Johnson makes sure you focus on her, by giving her the most intense colour with everyone else being “sotto voice” in grayed colors. The only background objects are just the necessary props....a chair, bed, ball and a cat. All the focus is on the shy narrator.
The characters look like they are drawn in pen and ink on a spattered mottled warm grayish toned textured board. The outlines are a very expressive thick/thin black outline. There are just a few highlights on the shy little girl's face with her clothes being the brightest opaque colors on the page....I am totally in love with the small patch of pink with a white highlight that David Johnson puts on the little mop haired girl's face!
David Johnson's drawings are SO appealing, and he does so much with his character designs. He is equally “spot on” with expressions and movements. Of course his expertise in picture book drawing comes from a stellar background in editorial and portrait work. I definitely want to study David Johnson's ability to draw his characters half way between realistic and cartoon that allow for both an appealing yet deceptively simple rendering. His color intensity variations between the main character and the backgrounds, makes his storytelling a tour de force of COLOR stage direction.
There is also a cool book trailer here.
Images reproduced by permission of the publisher; all rights reserved