As you might be able to tell, I've illustrated fifteen children book titles, both full color picture books and black and white interior/color cover. And like most other children's book illustrators I've read numerous book reviews of both my own titles, and other peoples. In the usual paragraph or so of a review (two paragraphs if you're lucky), most of the time the illustrations only get, at the most, one sentence. Yet, on the outset of a children's picture book project the illustrations are considered a full half of the whole storytelling experience.
Writing from an illustrator's perspective, I'd like to give a few more sentences to a few of these reviews. Over the years, I've looked at a LOT of children's picture books, and for me the first thing I look at is the art. The colours that are used, the fluidity of the lines, the composition of a double page spread. Then I start to look at the style of the art, and try to figure out just HOW the illustrator actually accomplished a particular passage. Often I do a bit of a “cheat” and look at the title page, which along with copyright info often will have a sentence as to the artistic media (digital, colored pencil, watercolor, paint etc) that the illustrator used. And finally I look at the storytelling, in the expressions and sequencing of the action.
These three books are some sorta kinda recent books that I fell in love with, all for different reasons. I don't have permission to show some of the illustrations for the first two here.....so's you will have to go “old school” and actually find hard copies to view. I hope I've given you enough of a teaser to go see these lovely books for yourself.
Flora's Very Windy Day illustrated by Matt Phelan and written by Jeanne Birdsall
Matt Phelan's loose watercolor children are deceptively simple......often with just dots for eyes, scant eyebrows, a line for a nose and often not even showing a mouth. Their rosy cheeks are the only colours used in depicting their skin tones....but it's just enough. Their faces are contained and described by fluid black sketched lines. Flora's hands and feet show a world of expressions. Tho' Crispin ( the little brother) usually doesn't show much expression, he doesn't really need to. Matt Phelan's gestural sketches capture a young toddler's habit of just staring at anything he doesn't know about.....and that covers a lot of things. Including a talking wind, rainbow and man in a moon!
The entire book is delightful, but my favorite-est part is the last page......with no text, that shows Flora and Crispin eating their well deserved chocolate chip cookies. The first shot shows them as they had been through out the book, two siblings, with the elder sorta kinda protecting her little brother....'cause she has to.....she guesses (in a foot dragging tone)! But in the last illustration, Crispin slides over for a cuddle and Flora hugs him.....that “gets” me every time!
Matt Phelan's masterful gestural drawings tell the close brother sister relationship so beautifully.....even if for most of the story, they are both head over heels in the sky.
Lottie Paris and the Best Place illustrated by Scott Fischer written by Angela Johnson
The story line has Lottie and Carl both visiting and enjoying their local library, even tho' dogs can't come inside, little girls shouldn't yell, and librarians are not amused by bubble blowing or yogurt on the books! Both Carl and Lottie are shown full on......all adults are just incidental on the pages.
You can see some of Laurent Linn's (he did book design) gift of design, in the text placement that goes with the rollicking pace of the book's words.
Carl and Lottie meet and literally exchange their interests....Lottie learns about Carl's dinosaurs and Carl learns about Lottie's spaceship dreams.
As Scott Fischer describes, in an article on his technique, he “went crazy” in his studio developing the style (one among his many) he used for this book. There are swaths of marbling in the backgrounds, and scrumbled color for the furniture, with stamped impressions of cloth used in the backgrounds. In all of the pages, the outline of the separate color patches of faces, arms, furniture are all done via stencils cut out by hand and then the different colors are rolled on with a brayer. After the colour patches are laid in and dry, Scott Fischer's artistry comes to the fore when he “inks' in the facial features, outlines of the hands and clothes. His gestures and expressions come thru with a delightful kind of fun. His detailing outlines are coloured to either blend with the item he is detailing or can be in a contrasting colour for a great color “POP!”
Mine! Illustrated by Patrice Barton written by Shutta Crum
(Make sure and check out the darling book trailer!)
(This is an excerpt of an ArtView review I did on the blog in 2013.)
“I went thru the book and began to appreciate how Patrice Barton had taken the author's “action notes” (for a book with only 9 ½ words, nine of which is “Mine” and the half word being Woof”) and woven a lovely playful, swooping story of how a toddler proclaims everything is hers......while a giggling, crawling sibling looks on.....and a puppy plots to grab some of the fun for himself! After much grabbing, giggling, splashing, we come to the “punch line”.....er.....word, which is.....you guessed it: MINE! The picture has the giggling, “just taking his first step”, sibling pouncing on the toddler and announcing that she belongs to him! (I'm arbitrarily assigning him/her to the engaging toddlers.....it could go either way)
Patrice Barton's gestural drawings are fantastic....she captures the fluid motions of little ones giggling, solemn watching, then going single mindedly for whatever catches their attention. I've loved Patrice's expressive faces ever since Rosie Sprout's Day to Shine.....and she catches these two little one's glee and giggles with brite eyes and smiles that show every little thought in their quick silver minds. From their poofs of angel fine hair to baggie jumpers the black “pencil” strokes just barely contain these little ones. With what looks like soft pastels colour in the toddlers' faces....there is a blush on every cheek....that really helps round out the little faces. The soft surrounding colours of the floor give this such a sense of safe, soft, giggling fun.”
These are just three of the many wonderfully illustrated picture books out there. I find I learn SO much about the craft of illustration, each time I open a book. Putting my observations in a “book review” form helps me figure out what drew me to look at that particular book. It also helps me see things that I can put to use in my own illustration practice.
Try “writing up” your own ArtView picture book review of a library book, and see what you think. Even if you haven't already illustrated a whole picture book......write up a pretend review for a future book you might illustrate. What would you like to be “known for”? It might give you a goal to shoot for the next time you sit down to draw.