I’m thrilled to have a guest post for you this week from a lovely new friend I made at NJ SCBWI’s picture book brunch last month. Helen N. Hill is an artist and aspiring author, mother of 2, and all around wonderful person. She kindly agreed to share her thoughts on the magic of illustration with my readers! I thought it especially nice to have an illustrator’s perspective during this, Picture Book Month. Thank you, Helen!
When I was young, I remember spending hours flipping through the pictures in my favorite books. Beyond just beautiful patterns, colors and textures created by illustrators, I was amazed how the pictures made the characters and setting come alive. I responded to the expressions on their faces, what they wore, the props they used and how other characters reacted to them, etc…
Books like Eloise (words by Kay Thompson pictures by Hilary Knight) resonated with me because Knight’s illustrations added to Eloise’s hilarious imagination and her general mischief.
Below she is shown eating breakfast with her Nanny. Her egg cup is balanced on her head, her elbow is leaning on the table and she is not excited to eat oatmeal. Eloise says, “You have to eat oatmeal or you’ll dry up.” The illustrations not only reinforce the narrative, but also add to the demeanor and spirit of the character.
Illustrations also help to move a story forward, create mood and tone and support subplots. A great example of this is Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. The next illustration shows Officer Buckle watching television. The colors are bright for night time which evokes the levity and humor of the story. The image is a full spread which reinforces the character’s emotional stress. He sees that the kids are enamored with the dog and not his safety presentation. The composition moves across the page: a large TV in the left hand corner, then Officer Buckle (Did you notice his funny traffic sign pjs? I could dedicate an entire blog to small, funny illustrated details like this one) and finally, a small reflection of the TV screen in the mirror. The illustration takes on its own narrative. Visually, this illustration moves your eye diagonally across the page from the lower left to the upper right. The reader has a clear call to action- turn the page.
Design elements such as use of negative/positive space and font treatment are another key element to the visual aspect of books. Special font treatments can be found especially on book covers. Illustrators or Designers usually blend an idea about the story with a font that is a literal piece of art. In the illustration that I created for my Mama Bird story, I used a repetitive “cheep cheep” scrawl to show the baby birds constant chirping for their Mom. I also intentionally left a large area of empty space surrounding to help accentuate the background type.
When I read to children, I like to ask them to be book detectives.
Even before getting to first line of text, they can find many clues about what the illustrator is telling us about the story. I encourage them to gently examine the jacket of a picture book. Instead of turning to page one, open the book so that the cover is facing up. Does the cover art run the full spread? What is this image telling us about the book we are about to read?
Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli has a full illustration that spreads the entire jacket. It’s a vibrant image that is fun to discover. Plus, it shows Sam way ahead of the others on the race track, literally driving off the right bottom corner of the cover. Hum, is Sam on a downward spiral? What will we learn about Sam in this story?
Next, we very carefully peak under the jacket. Is the jacket art the same as the cover? What a wonderful surprise when it isn’t! In the case of the Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli, we discovered that the cover under the jacket was very different than the jacket . . . it was green with white stripes. Just like the outside of a real watermelon. My audience is delighted to point this out to me.
I examine the end pages with children- usually what’s there gives you a playful hint about the story or an element in it. Watermelon Seed has a lovely pattern of oversized seeds! Just like the inside of a real watermelon! Then, the same striped motif is repeated in the book.What will we be discovering about a watermelon seed?
Then, after we’ve read a story, I like to flip through the visuals without reading. I also like to do the same exercise before we read a new story. What do the images tell us? What happens to the story if you just look at the pictures first and then read it? How is the story different without the words? How is it different without the images? This exploration is a fun way to see how the words and pictures in a book work to enhance meaning and emphasis in a story. I challenge you to try it with one of your favorite picture books now!
FAVORITE BOOKS THAT INSPIRE ART PROJECTS
- Lois Ehlert’s Snowballs is great for generating at home projects. Cut three white circles out of felt, raid the pantry for any “good stuff” and use glue to make some house bound snowmen that won’t melt. Next, use a felt board to let them play together!
- I am Blop! by Herve Tullet is fun for wacky character projects. Use markers to make your own character out of any kind of blob you like. Fold a few sheets of office paper together and make a story. Give your little blob a house, a friend and an adventure!
- Giant Dance Party (words by Betsy Bird pictures by Brandon Dorman) is great to inspire some “drawing from life” sketches. Turn on some music. Play a game of dancing and, when the music stops, have kids freeze into a pose. Draw your favorite poses. Cut out your best drawings and stick them onto wooden Popsicle sticks. Create a stage out of an old shoe box and perform a recital!
Helen N. Hill is an artist who from a young age loved adventure. When she couldn’t venture out, she drew colorful characters and, much to the despair of her mother, made lavish cooking experiments. Having grown up in Belgium, there is something about the display of pastries in most bakeries that makes her kiss the tips of her fingers and say, “Oh la la!” She also spent her formative years in England where she was inspired by Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl. Helen went to St. Michael’s College, Vermont and was influenced by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. After a rewarding career in marketing, she is now dedicated to writing and illustrating picture books and short stories.
Here’s a few of Helen’s vibrant illustrations for you. Like them? You can view Helen’s online portfolio at http://www.writeinkpaint.blogspot.com where she blogs about the storytelling process, children’s literature and creative inspiration.
Again,big thanks to Helen for a wonderful look at illustration! I hope you all drop by her blog and check her out!