Final Project – Research Continued

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.

Lost and found front and back

I like the way the back and front cover form a single image

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

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Double spread on white background
The character is the focus.

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:

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Double spread – Landscape only
Scale of characters and landscape speaks for itself

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:

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A child will see the arrow on the illustration
This distracts from the tension.

The more unbelievable, the better:

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Double spread from Stuck

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.

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Credit page for The Great Paper Caper

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.


The Incredible Book Eating Boy


Sara Fanelli’s innovative style

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)§

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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.

photo 1     First Spead

photo 1        Reverse scene before resolutio

photo 3   Climax:  Movement and chaos.  People are fleeing in all directions.

nphoto 2  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

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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.

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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!