Friday, January 24, 2014

Illustrating Children's Books: Some Analysis of the Greats

So I have been thinking about my woefully inadequate attempts at illustrating my children's books, and how I am going to learn how to paint. I decided I have to get an idea of what I am aiming for, and thus rounded up some of my favorite illustrators.

1. Beatrix Potter, whose pictures are somehow so full of wonder....
Evidently I am not alone, C.S. Lewis mentioned experiencing wonder from Beatrix Potter's illustrations as a child. There's so much beauty in them. Especially the misty backgrounds, you can feel the morning sun and mist. OK---So practical notes here. It appears to be line (ink?) drawings, on watercolor backgrounds, filled in with watercolor (and maybe gouache?).

2. Brian Wildsmith.
I love his use of color and gold illumination, it also filled me with wonder as a child, how everything in the picture meant something, how there were meaningful secrets tucked into the details of the pictures.

pix from this blog These are from "A Christmas Story" Isaiah's favorite

Note the gold illumiated window, with the cross-beams highlighted...and the position of Baby Jesus' arms as he learns how to walk....
He seems to be using pencil outlines, with watercolor and gouache to fill it out....

3. Ivan Bilibin
He's THE fairy tale illustrator.
Love his use of borders, of dark and light, and his superb line drawings.

Again, he seems to use line drawing (ink?) and fill it in with watercolor (or gouache??). His colors cut off more at the lines than Potter or Wildsmith.

4. Jenny Dolfen
And then there's this absolutely amazing artist my siblings found on the internet, "Gold-Seven" on deviantart, Jenny Dolfen. She draws the most amazing and heart-wrenching pictures of Hannibal's struggle against Rome. Her website is here. Her Tolkien illustrations are pretty amazing too, she is the only artist I have ever seen who really captures Gandalf. Check out her galleries, they are amazing.
She really  makes you care about Hannibal. From her website
She has a lot of helpful tutorials on her blog. She does line art, and then paints it in with watercolors. If I could be one third as good as her, I would be very happy indeed.

5. Trina Schart Hyman
I stumbled across her art as an adult.

Hyman seems to use extensive pencil line drawing (with shading and cross-hatching and all) that is then painted over. There's a lot more pencil than the other 4 illustrators we've looked at so far.
It's very fairy-tale-ish. For me, it has a little less wonder in it than Bilibin, Potter, and Dolfen....but I don't know if that's style or my mental associations with having people fleshed out with pencil so much. Watercolor seems to leave more up to the imagination somehow...

So in conclusion, the kind of illustration style that I really like is some form of line art (ink or pencil, but not too heavy) with watercolor and gouache.
Since the best way to learn from them is to copy them, like the apprentices of yore, one of my goals this year is to mimic them.
This year, I'm going to go over and analyze and try to copy in some small way each of these illustrators in turn. First I need to get one of those "Watercolor 101" type of books from the library.


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  2. This woman copies a beatrix potter picture w/ ink and watercolor

  3. mostly obvious things