I ‘ve wanted to get to the final project for so long that I find myself intimidated by the task at hand now. I feel more research is necessary before indulging into the creation of my picture book. Having looked at Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece more closely made me realise even more that planning is crucial for a successful outcome. I therefore decided to analyse the work of other successful and more contemporary author/illustrators whose work resonates for various reasons.
It is one thing liking a book and remembering it long after you’ve read it. It is another to understand why this is the case. In some ways, the analysis takes the magic out of the subconscious experience. I guess it is the same process whenever you are trying to create: artists look at old masters, film producers analyse classic movies, writers analyse books…
First of all, I am invariably coming back to Oliver Jeffers whose style appeals to me for its simplicity and its depth. For the purpose of this blog, I will first of all focus on Lost and Found.
Of particular interest is the use of space – more specifically the negative space that informs the reader on the character’s emotions although the boy’s face itself is devoid of expression. The positioning of a strong horizon line in his landscapes is equally important as the vignettes floating on a white page to give us a breather. The reasons why it works are twofold: the variety between the settings and layout from page to page and the focus on the main character makes us care for his plea more and more – the boy has to succeed in making the penguin happy / once he realised he didn’t do the right thing, he has to find the penguin no matter what!
Film effect: the camera is zooming on the boy as we are sharing his doubt about his decision
The interaction between the boy and the penguin is kept to a trip to the South pole with a boy telling stories and the penguin listening quietly, followed by an accolade as they part and go their separate way. This adventure is on two colourful double spreads — as if it is just the two of them in the world – mimicking the centrality of a child in the world. Jeffers makes us look at the world through the boy’s eyes. What else matters? Nothing. But even though not much happens and not much is said (well nothing by the penguin actually), many emotions are shared by the two characters and conveyed to the audience: sadness, doing your best to make a friend happy and loneliness that follows the loss of a friend.
A double spread for a stormy adventure:
Simultaneously, the simplicity of the cartoon looking drawings, almost childlike, makes it accessible to a child himself. The boy is a blob with a featureless face and a very prominent nose. His legs are two sticks and footless. The penguin and the boys are lost in a gigantic landscape painted with soft watercolours and a limited palette of blues and green. The scale of their cold surrounding makes their loneliness and fragility believable and makes us care for them. The ‘boys books’ as Jeffers refers to them, namely How to catch a star, Lost and Found, Up and Down, The way back home, have been a very successful series turned into pop up books, apps or short animations proving that if you respect your audience and that you do not dumb down, everything is possible. Jeffers also agrees that ‘children are smarter than we give them credit for’ and ‘I totally avoid forced content, thinly veiled morals, anything preachy or funny for the sake of it.’ (Brazell, 2011:118)
While it deals with sadness or loneliness at times, the illustrations are full of little and hilarious details that lift the whole story like a mother’s hug. The stories are uplifting and make everything possible. This is why Jeffers’ books are so popular.
Like a pantomime:
The more unbelievable, the better:
Jeffers constantly changes and innovates. For instance, he is passionate about the relationship between text and image and has a background in graphic design and visual communication. He plays and experiments with typography and treats it as illustration itself. He seems to find routes that connect words and pictures going through one medium to another. A talented artist will create a synergy. In Jeffers The Great Paper Caper, an environmental whodunit, the credit on the opening page is designed as a tree. The text emulates the type of an old typewriter used by detectives to type their report. Jeffers is totally aware of how just a few words and the choice of the typeface can totally change the meaning of a picture.
In the Incredible book eating boy, Henry’s story is wittily told visually and textually. He devours books (the right hand side corner of the back cover has been nibbled too) and acquires knowledge but invariably gets very sick and has to read books instead. The artwork combines collage with drawings onto pages from ancient fly-blown books. The paint used is acrylics and Dulux homepaint. The background is made of lined, square and graph paper as settings for classroom.
Overall, Jeffers can easily be identified as contemporary conceptual artists. His style cannot be classified because he uses a wide range of media and succeeds to convey a remarkable breadth of emotions with very few details and lots of white space in a more linear narrative.
Jeffers has contributed to enhance children’s reading experience and exploration of the world with a unique and innovative approach.
Oliver Jeffers, an extremely successful and acclaimed author/illustrator who has proven that a label is just that and that the artificial divide between fine art and illustration can be blurred.
In his monograph of his figurative oil paintings and installation in the book Neither here nor there, he displays a different side of his character and talent. Although he had exhibited in New York, Dublin, Sydney, some of his paintings previously, it is the first time that most of his work is shown to the public. Jeffers is intrigued by the world around him and has a great sense of humour.
The same applies in his picture books. His style differs. Besides I don’t think it is an artist who would like to be classified. He likes to think of himself as somebody ‘who makes art.’ In picture books, his style is minimalist. His characters are never described in words and their facial expressions are almost non existent apart for a prominent nose for the boy who appears in the series of fantastical quests in How to catch a star, Lost and Found, The way back home and Up and down. Another characteristic is his footless legs and most importantly his body language and the way he is placed in a gigantic landscape to show his emotions, his loneliness and his quest of a friend. They are universal themes but still Jeffers never preaches. He thinks ‘children are smarter than we give them credit for’ and ‘I totally avoid forced content, thinly veiled morals, anything preachy or funny for the sake of it.’
I particularly admire the layout and the use of negative space, that helps putting emphasis on the hero’s emotions. In his picture books, less is definitely more but it takes a real gift to know which best moment to depict to capture the tension at a certain point of a story. Being an author and an illustrator probably gives an advantage that you can choose to draw instead of saying it or vice versa. The key is to get it right.
I also love the fact that the characters; actions are anchored in reality: they stop to have lunch or have a bath. Any child will relate to this and it will make the characters even more loveable and the quest even more possible.
His books are magical even for an adult. I can’t wait to see what comes next out of this multimedia artist.
I admire Sara Fanelli’s distinctive style and her willingness to innovate every time. She writes and illustrates picture books for the pleasure of children and adults alike. She loves books and wants you to love them too. She plays with content and format to make her creations interactive. She takes her readers on a journey of exploration.
Her style is distinctive: bold and flat colours, textured collage, photomontages, prints, characters seen in profile. She paints lines that she breaks and doodles with. She ignores tones . She draws inspiration from Dadaism and constructivism (photomontage) , Cubism (shapes) , Surrealism, Paul Klee and literature.Her style is bold and childlike but what seems simple is not so. Her motto on her website is ‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” (Oscar Wilde)§
Another way of giving her own stamp on her illustrations is the creation of her own lettering that she superimposes on top of her illustrations or sometimes incorporates in her drawings.
She doesn’t shy away from pushing the boundaries further every time. No book is ever the same whilst her style remains distinctive. Her strength is her child appeal. She makes it look like the child himself could have done it. But although her books grow organically, the layout takes planning. No area of the page is left untouched. Some spreads echo each other with a different palette highlighting a drama or a resolution.
Reverse scene before resolutio
Climax: Movement and chaos. People are fleeing in all directions.
n Towards Resolution: calm. People are gathering around the protagonist
Fanelli also pushes the boundaries of interactivity further than what is usually acceptable as a novelty book standard. In the Onion’s Great Escape, the reader needs to help Onion escape the deep fry by answering metaphysical
questions. She doesn’t dumb down. Are you happy? How long is a minute? The reader is asked to write the answers inside the book, to get involved and construct the story and its meaning.
The reward: the paper onion can be taken out of the perforated core. In essence, you never close the book for ever. The experience stays with you forever.
Sometimes I think, sometimes I am is written for adults. It is constructed like Russian dolls with a book inside it and an even smaller one inside again.
With quotes she makes references, drawing on the reader’s background, experience and knowledge to make their own connections.
Apart from Wolf, all her narratives are non linear.Like other illustrators, she breaks the conventions of usual visual storytelling. I am thinking of Lane Smith, David Wiesner, Lauren Child, Oliver Jeffers. I will develop this theme in a lot more details for next term’s essay and will add another post about it. Watch the space!