Materials for Children
Michael Scott Joseph
----long lines vs. short
----bold vs. fine
----convoluted, twisty, intricate vs. simple:
----does the line move up and down, or back and forth across the page; does it move circularly, in and out? or does it rather move in a contained, controlled space.
----many vs. few
Overall effect of drawing; importance of drawing to the illustration
Clown, by Quentin Blake (1996), is a wordless picture book. Blake’s nonchalant, fly-away lines create a sense of spriteliness and easy movement, and, with a sense of improvisation, reflect amusingly upon the ups and downs of life.
Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak (1981; 1977): Sendak is also a master-draftsman. His initial sketch, full of many kinds of lines--scratchy little lines, serried pencil strokes, careful, controlled, outlines, impart many different emotions. There is a sense of artistic self-confidence here, which suggests that this work is important-not just a children’s book-and deserves to be regarded beside the eighteenth and nineteenth century landscape etchings to which it alludes. The contrast of dark vertical strokes in the sky and the tender outlines of the floating sister and kidnapped brother seem to brood upon a melancholy force, the puzzle of life in a universe that may not love us.
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion; illustrations by Margaret Bloy Graham (1984; 1956). Graham’s bold lines comfortably contain the buoyant action of the illustration. They create a world of strong, reassuring, definitions, of clearly articulated things one can know and hence control. While there is a wealth of narrative detail, there is an economy of line, a form follows function aesthetic.
----choice: many hues or few
----intensity: bright vs. dull; luminous vs. dark, shadowed
Relation to Each Other
----contrast vs. complement
----solid vs. shaded
Relation to Line
----subordinate or dominant or of equal strength
----large areas vs. small areas
Overall effect of color; importance of color to the illustration
Zaubertopf und Zauberkugel, by Duë an K« llay; (Dusan Kallay); illustrations by Barbara Bartos-HŘ ppner (Barbara Bartos-Hoppner)(1991). Bartos-HŘ ppner’s pastels shade off into each other, and seem to quietly shimmer like light in a soap bubble. Soft, yielding, they convey the receptiveness, plasticity and the subtlety of make-believe, while the broad palette suggests its richness, too, complementing the complexity of her designs. Perhaps her muted tones also imply the shaded quiet of the nursery where a young child might peacefully dream pleasant nonsense about giants, fairies, a magical ball and a magical pot.
Dogs in Space, by Nancy Coffelt (1993). Here simple chalky colors (safely held within bold outlines) imitate the style of children’s art. The star-dotted black backgrounds are the reverse of normal white backgrounds imparting a sense of privileged exposure to the unusual, and a sense of fun. The black backgrounds (and the simplicity of the designs) also help to emphasize the color contrasts. Varying the scenes of space with scenes of colorful planets (with echoes of Matisse, Miro and Chagal) establishes a satisfying rhythm that corresponds to the book’s central trope of flight.
Midnight Play, by KvĆ ta Pacovsk« (Kveta Pacovska) (1992). Pacovsk« ’s intense, intensely contrasting colors suggest that the dreamworld they illustrate is super-real-more arrogant, more vital, more dominant (to quote Stevens) than what we normally take for real. Just as this ultimate reality eludes the rational mind, Pacovsk« ’s saturated reds and greens, which ooze transgressively beyond the confines of their outlines, overpower and escape the momentarily dazzled eye. (See how the drippy hat of the ringmaster, in which color overcomes shape, underscores a sense of wet, blobby excitement.)
----flat (matte) dry vs. shiny (gloss), wet
Midnight Play (see above). Pacovska alternates smooth, shiny, wet surfaces with streaky, perhaps to convey an awareness of the intensity as well as the playfulness of childhood, over which Pacovska's giant primal figures seem to loom like mythological incarnations, the goddesses and gods of our first surprised awakening.
The Widow’s Broom, by Chris Van Allsburg (1992). In Van Allsburg’s gothic illustrations, the contrast between drab, ordinary settings and vast, inconceivable events, are intensified by the fine web of lines that lie like magnetic shavings on the surface. These lines mimic the face of intaglio prints where the plates have been prepared with certain acids, and evoke a spirit of past-times, or a lost time before this time. They may also imply that the outward tranquility we first felt upon looking at the scene, is actually a deception; that perhaps intricate underlying tensions can at any moment tear the cover off the world we thought we knew, and reveal something truly ghastly-perhaps also unmasking something nightmarish about ourselves. Van Allsburg’s dark, colorless drawings are also simply more interesting because of them, more vibrant and alive, and move us to want to touch them.
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle (1991). Streaky surfaces lend a touch of nuance and character to Eric Carle’s boldly simplified shapes. Compare with Dogs in Space, by Nancy Coffelt, in which the the soft, crumbly, chalk leavings lend a similarly tender and tactile quality to the illustration. Perhaps these effects foreground the artefact, reminding us (or reassuring the child) that what we are holding and looking at is a book, an object whose meaning and value is determined within our own sensory experience.
----three dimensions (round, voluminous) vs. two dimensions (flat)
----large vs. small
----vertical vs. horizontal
----center vs. margin
----bold vs. subtle
Geometric vs. organic
----constructed vs. naturalistic
What Is The Secret Of Flying, by KvĆ ta Pacovsk« (Kveta Pacovska) (1995). The use of large, flat, geometric shapes (circles, triangles, rectangles (quadrats) complement and strengthen Pacovsk« ’s use of basic colors to communicate a mythic elementalism. Their assertiveness and simplicity comment upon childhood (and, in turn, upon the human heart, which, as Marianne Moore observed, wants what it wants).
Eric Carle makes similar use of bold shapes in Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear, although, by placing his shapes on a horizontal plane he achieves a more lyric tone, whereas, in contrast, Pacovsk« ’s vertical orientation is dramatic and emphatic. Both assert their importance by standing in the center of the page.
Sam and the Tigers: A New Telling of Little Black Sambo, by Julius Lester; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (1996). In contrast to Pacovsk« ’s broad, geometric figures, Jerry Pinkney’s use of gracefully curved lines and rounded shapes convey feelings of safety, comfort, control, and worldly beauty. Where Pacovsk« ’s flat shapes revel in the artifice and insight of the creative imagination, Pinkney’s subtle and complex shapes transform the outer world; they suggest a synthesis of artistic vision and natural object.Moon Man, by Tomi Ungerer (1998; 1966). The rounded shapes of Moon Man remind us of the rotundity of the moon and prompt thoughts of completeness, self-containment, closure (particularly when juxtaposed against vertical bars-as in enclosure); As well, they prompt the observation that complete presence O is simultaneously complete absence-isolated and lonely-which of course echoes the book’s theme.
In most cases, illustrations and text have to coexist in some coherent pattern. Illustrations may face text, sit above or below text, or surround it, in a variety of ways: within fully delineated shapes, such as circles and rectangles, or within space delineated by illustrative elements (e.g. framed within ascending trees, or as part of a diary or journal). They may overshadow or complement text, or may, for whatever reason, refuse to visually engage text. The balance of text and image may connote formality or intimacy, detachment or completion, self-conscious artistry or playful self-abandonment, assert the book beautiful or assert the power of the reader, or several of these together.
Visual relation to text:
----illustration dominates text (a)
----illustration recedes or disappears (b)
----illustration and text possess equal weight (c)
----illustration and text create single image (d)
----simple illustrations may decorate, accent text, point beyond text (e)
In The Sweetest Fig, by Chris Van Allsburg (1993), each illustration stretches across the gutter and fills both pages to the margin, subsuming the textual panel within it (an example of (a) above. The disparity in space allowed to text and illustration emphatically demonstrates the greater importance of the illustration, and, indeed, one can imagine the illustration as a self-sufficient narrator. (Well, isn’t this inversion like that recounted in the story itself?) The Widow’s Broom, on the other hand, tends to accord equal space to illustration and text (c), suggesting various partnerships given in the text--the partnership between widow and witch--or woman and woman--and the partnership between widow and broom; it also suggests, the division between, or the divisiveness between, men and women. The polysemous symbol of equality and separation resident in the physical separation of text and illustration may also suggest the curious duality of broom and its doppelganger, the mysterious separation and simultaneous conjunction of body and spirit.
As we have seen above, KvĆ ta Pacovsk« ’s Flying emphasizes the text’s free-form typography, its visual presence, and the physicality of the book itself (d). Similarly, in the final page of Harry The Dirty Dog, the text is incorporated as an image or sorts within the page design to suggest completion and circularity. (Note the contrast, too, between this typeface, with its even, rounded letters, and Pacovsk« ’s exuberantly child-like typography.) In Zaubertopf Und Zauberkugel, illustration also serves the traditional purpose of page decoration.
MODE OF REPRESENTATIONRealism
While illustrations as aesthetic objects invite the foregoing kinds of analysis, they are also representational; they are not independent artworks, and therefore we may usefully classify them by how closely they adhere to the objects they intend to describe. There are several broad categories of description critics use, ranging along a continuum from hyper-realism to complete abstraction. Although these and related terms cannot be applied with scientific precision, they are helpful in establishing a place to begin more detailed analysis, as genre does in discussing literature. Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations strive toward a photographic realism as they suggest the famously grainy photographs of flying saucers, haunted houses and other supernatural phenomena. Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations forSam and the Tigers, are also realistic: they intend to portray the world as it appears, albeit in an idealized and simplified way. Maurice Sendak’s illustration for Outside Over There, can also be called realistic. The proportions of the figures are correct, and the use of perspective and modeling conveys the idea of objects with mass, occupying space, largely in accordance with the laws of physics. Realism might even been extended to include pen drawings and quick sketches that intend to give the world in a quick glimpse, such as Edward Ardizzone’s vignettes for Kali and the Golden Mirror, by Eva-Lis Wuorio (1967). These illustrations can be called realistic because their primary intention is to render nature objectively--which is to say, according to the dictates of the conventions for such rendering, conceived in specific solutions to questions of light, perspective, volume, visual planes, and so forth.
Less realistic because of their greater simplification, subjectivity, or their departure from the conventions of objective depiction, are the illustrations for Polar Bear. While each of the artists mentioned above certainly possesses a unique and recognizable style, Carle’s illustrations can be termed stylized, to suggest their greater experimentation and freedom from conventional constraint. Further along the continuum towards complete abstraction, and away from the attempt to suggest the surface of things, are the illustrations created for Zaubertopf und Zauberkugel . While Carle uses simple colors and cut pieces of paper to construct recognizable animals, Bartos-HŘ ppner’s colors and shapes make few concessions to the recognizable. Her elongated shimmery figures reinvent the human anatomy as well as the laws of physics, perhaps in an effort to convey a certain spiritedness or psychological reality. Illustrations such as these, rendered with a high level of distortion, are usually described as highly stylized. Again, the term is fudgy, and one critic’s stylized may be another’s highly stylized, it depends on one’s experience, inclination, and judgment.
Another broad but useful category of description is caricature and cartoon. Tomi Ungerer’s Moon Man, Quentin Blake’s Clown, and Margaret Bloy Graham’s illustrations for Harry the Dirty Dog, are all acceptably termed cartoons or cartoon-like in their use of brassy colors, generalized shapes, and disregard of visual detail--as is, of course, the quintessentially cartoonish, Walt Disney’s Goofy in Giant Trouble, by Don Christensen (1968). Although differing in terms of artistic intent and sensibility, and in narrative detail and strength, these four illustrations share a kind of waiver of the requirements of representation that even highly stylized illustrations meet. They intend merely to convey the spirit of appearance, to evoke rather than represent the seen world. Of a less conventional cartoon style, but arguably classifiable as a cartoon, Nancy Coffelt’s Dogs in Space exploits the liberties of cartoon rendering to amplify the liberties of zooming about the solar system.
Although it is unexpected in an art form designed to be representational, and still rather exceptional, in postmodern picture books, abstraction it is not uncommon. KvĆ ta Pacovsk« ’s books, such as Flying and Midnight Play, flout the conventions of representation, perhaps rejecting the authority of the seen world in order to insist upon the validity of an unseen world. In several books, most famously The Three Golden Keys(1994), Peter Sis integrates abstract patterns and objects into his layered, palimpsest-like, designs, with the similar goal of expressing a personal, subjective reality. In Fitcher’s Bird, a tale in the gruesome spirit of Bluebeard, Cindy Sherman uses photographic still-lifes to create surreal illustrations that are neither representational nor abstract, though certainly something of both, to convey the tale’s innate horror.
Art historical styles, while not defined on the continuum from hyper-realism to total abstraction, provide definable strategies of representation and serve as a good critical descriptor of an illustrator’s work. All illustrators are subliminally influenced by art history, as well as by contemporary fine art, and many will choose to draw upon a particular artist or period style to achieve a desired effect for a specific illustration or book. The Bauhaus influence is plain in KvĆ ta Pacovsk«’s preference for geometric figures, no less than the influence of nineteenth century genre painting is palpable in Chris Van Allsburg’s landscapes. Cindy Sherman’s mock-horrific illustrations may be based on the still-lifes of Max Ernst and the practices of the French surrealists. But a critic can discuss their work intelligently without negotiating their roots and influences. On the other hand, Anthony Browne’s thorough immersion in surrealism is unavoidable. In this garden scene from Gorilla (1989; 1983), the topiary gorillas dancing beside Hannah and her gorilla partner are so blatantly surrealistic, to discuss them otherwise is insufficient, to miss Browne’s point. In fact, the complete effectiveness of Browne’s work depends upon his audience’s familiarity with the strategies as well as the aesthetic principles of the surrealists. In the cover of Gorilla, incongruous juxtapositions and comical misplacements include a repeated reference to the famous bowler hat of Rene Magritte. Similarly, the illustrations of Fiona French make use of various idiomatic painting styles, including seventeenth century Chinese, traditional Caribbean and Art Deco. Her Snow White in New York (1991; 1986), is illustrated completely in the Art Deco style, with its emphasis upon clear, bold lines, bright colors and angular symmetrical design. French’s fluent command of the Deco style lends verisimilitude to her recreation of 1920’s New York.
----pen and ink
----pencils (colored or lead)
----woodcut (or wood-engraving)
Cut paper or origami