The Queen of Colors

Queen of Colorsby Jutta Bauer (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published in Germany, 1998, as Die Königen der Farben.)

I love the work NorthSouth is doing, and this book in particular has stuck with me for a while.Queen of ColorsSo it’s a funny little book, but it’s also literally little, and there’s a lot of mayhem happening in such a small package. I think that’s smart.Queen of ColorsColor’s been on the brain a lot this week because I’m in the thick of teaching an Intro to Photoshop and Graphic Design class to kids. This has been a fun one to show them, because the colors in this book take on such a clear identity.Queen of ColorsBlue is soft and gentle. I love how the Queen is giving it a hug and kiss.Queen of Colors Queen of Colors Queen of ColorsRed barrels in and nearly knocks her over. It’s wild and dangerous.Queen of ColorsAnd then there’s Yellow. Warm and bright and sunshiny on her toes.

These colors have purpose, but when Matilda can’t control them, the whole mess turns Gray.Queen of Colors Queen of Colors It’s the same in art. Too many colors competing leaves you a whole lot of buzz and confusion. It doesn’t work.ThisDoesntWork(image source.)

This Gray sticks around for a while. It doesn’t work. Queen of ColorsQueen of ColorsBut it does make the Queen of Colors sad. Not gentle, not wild, not warm. Not colorful. 

So she cries. You’ll have to see for yourself what her tears do to the gray. Here’s a hint: it’s scribbles and stars and swirls. It’s a happy ending.

Color has a story, and it’s a story that matters.

ch

P.S.—Does Queen Matilda remind you a little bit of Queen Ursula from the Little Mermaid? I think it’s part her bossiness, and part her curves. I’m awful at remembering lines from films, but this is one that has stayed with me a long, long time. I think it’s thanks to the bubbles that shimmy out of her hind parts!

breaker

 

 

Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)

by Jean-Jacques Sempé

I love this book.

I love the type on the cover.

I love the yellow.

I love the shape and the size and the story.

I love Martin Pebble.

He’s loveable.

(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)

(Something like that.)

But poor Martin Pebble.

Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:

he kept blushing.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.

Subtle. Striking.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThe contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.

Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.

He dreamed of fitting in.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéBut he always stood out.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThen comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.

Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéWhen the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéRoddy Rackett’s family moves away.

When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéSometimes things get back to normal.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéI won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

But I love it.IMG_1250 copy

And!

Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)

Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.

And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!

ch

Out the Window

Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele Youngby Cybèle Young

published 2014 by Groundwood BooksOut the Window by Cybele YoungDon’t you hate throwing your ball out the window and being too short to see where it bounces? The worst.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungBut the worst gets better, because in its place a spectacular parade clash-crashes by. Except when you’re a frantic, too-short creature, it’s really hard to see over the windowsill. Good thing you’re a clever whippersnapper, and push that chair up to take a peek.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungAnd just when you can finally see outside, the book tells you to turn around.

You’ll stumble smack dab into the spectacle.

Juggling shrimp on a unicycle! A bat on a hanging, clangy contraption! Pink swans pulling a turtle on a wagon!Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele YoungThanks to this parade, you might just get your ball back. It’s one fantastic game of catch.

And check out this trailer to see the book in its glorious action. Mesmerizing.

ch

P.S. – Remember the Twitter chat with Groundwood Books and Cybèle Young? The transcript is here, if you want to add to your art-to-study and books-to-love pile. It was such fun!

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

by Gloria Fowler, illustrated by Sun Young Yoo

published 2008, by Ammo Books

The slightest clunk in some of the words is swept up in the utter beauty of the illustrations in The Red Shoes. It’s an interpretation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson story, and I love its elegant take on girl power.

Just look at that cover. It’s evocative and inviting and so lovely that I’m not quite sure where her locks and thread intertwine and end.

The illustrations are rendered in black and white throughout, and so the peek of red under the dust jacket is exquisite. And lift that dust jacket for a taste of those red shoes.The Red ShoesSpeaking of the black and white, Sun Young Yoo says this: “A lot of people have asked me the reason why I don’t use any colors in my work. I do use colors sometimes, but I think there are a lot of colors out in the world. I don’t think I need too many colors to express my thoughts and stories. A piece of paper and a pen with black ink would be enough for me to create my own world. Instead of filling up the paper with colors, I’m inviting the viewers to my black and white world and asking them to fill up the blanks with their own colors and imagination.”The Red ShoesEndpaper junkies will adore them, and so will the shoe fiends among you. (I’m looking at you, Sallie.)The Red ShoesAnd the title, woven from needle and thread. Whoa. All of these details, and we are just now to the beginning of the words in the story. Thanks to its form, so much of the picture book experience is absorbed prior to reading a word. Its art, its heft, its detail: you’ve read so much of the story before you get to its true beginning.Then we meet Karen, the daughter of the town shoemaker. We see one illustration of their love for each other, an embrace that is so deftly drawn that it takes a long look to see where one begins and the other ends.So when Karen’s mother falls ill and passes away, the devastation is great. She’s alone in a vast empty space. And that tear.The Red ShoesThe Red ShoesEnter a queen and a princess and a decree to hand over the red shoes or be cut at the ankle. Karen looks so alone in this forest of executioner boots.The Red ShoesWhere white has washed the previous pages, now we only see dark. And man, I love this picture. Karen’s mother, reflected in a river and reaching out for Karen’s tears. Once again, the two wrapped around one another.The Red ShoesThe Red ShoesAnd then, a spark. Stitches and beads and sequins and threads. A bit of bravery and a touch of trickery.

I love that a story about a special pair of red shoes was told with an economy of color. The expressive line of a careful pencil holds all the weight of this fairy tale.

Happily ever after.

ch

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue

RedKnitCapGirlToTheRescueby Naoko Stoop

published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Naoko Stoop’s work has enchanted me for some time now. I’m thrilled she is in the picture book world because her voice is unique. It’s haunting and heartwarming at the same time. Terribly beautiful. I wrote about Red Knit Cap Girl over on Design Mom, and now she’s back in another lovely episode.

And how thrilled was I to connect directly to Naoko and find out some nitty gritty details of her process, inspiration, and drive to create story? Very. Hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have!

Be sure to visit Naoko’s etsy shop if you are still in the hunt for Christmas gifts. I’d take one of each, wouldn’t you?RKCG2-10(Click any image to enlarge. You have got to see the detail and texture in its full glory!)

When did you first know you were meant to be an artist? Was it a particular moment? A habit? An inspiration?

I have to say, I still hesitate to call myself an “artist”. Because, to me, “art” is about expression, and everyone has his/her own way to express themselves. I’ve been very, very lucky that I’ve made a career in what I love to do. I never considered that I would be in the art field when I was studying business at college, or working in marketing for a big corporation back in Tokyo. Back in those days, I felt something was missing in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but I remember that my grandmother used to tell me that when I was five, I never stopped drawing. Her words stayed with me for years. Several years ago, when I was feeling lost, I quit everything and started to paint. I was hoping to find new prospects in my life and nurture my inner child, and it opened me up to a new world of possibilities. Since then, I’ve been painting.

What are your creative influences – in books, or film, or art, or nature, or anywhere else?

I grew up mostly in Tokyo. I was a typical city kid, busy with studies and school activities—I didn’t spend much time outside. After college, I lived in Vancouver B.C. Canada for about a year, and it was the first time in my life that I was exposed to nature on such a large scale: huge mountains, endless rain forests, magnificent glaciers and lots of wild animals. Canada’s natural beauty amazed and inspired me. I felt so spiritual by just being in nature, it gave me a sense of security and stability which I never felt in Tokyo. My time in Canada has been a strong influence on my current artwork, considering that I didn’t yet know how to paint when I was there. Life is interesting; I would’ve been very happy living in Vancouver had I stayed there, but I’m not sure if I would’ve become an artist. It was living in Brooklyn that gave me creative inspiration—Brooklyn definitely has an artistic atmosphere, with a lot of support for young artists. People accept individual creativity and don’t negatively judge your work. When I was painting on used brown paper grocery bags, a gallery owner discovered me, and she gave me my first gallery show opportunity.

RKCG2-11

And who are your creative heroes?

Hayao Miyazaki,
Hokusai Katsushika,
Maurice Sendak
Is there a book from your childhood that has stuck inside your soul?

It’s not a book, but an early Miyazaki movie, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It had a strong influence in my developing my own stories. I also love Totoro by Miyazaki. Totoro is my spiritual home :)

Which comes first – the story in words, or the story in pictures?

Definitely story in pictures first. I develop the stories in my head with sketches, visualizing the storyline. Later, I write a simple text to accompany the illustrations.

RKCG2-12

Tell us a bit about your physical process of creating art? I see wood, paper, paint, and pencil? Your pictures are so tactile and lovely – the spread with the waves (where their eyes are squeezed closed tight!) grabbed me and plopped me right into that sailboat with them! What a rush!

First, I find a piece of wood which has the right grain for the scene, then I start with background. This is the most intriguing part of my painting process because wood grain gives me a spontaneous pattern, and I can never predict the exact result before I paint on it. (Sometimes, I get very a different painting idea by looking at the flow on the grain!) When the background is dry, I start drawing the outlines of the scene with inks, then color them with acrylic paint, gouache, pencil and pastels… whatever would suit best to give the appropriate texture for the scene. I try to use found materials as much as possible, since I believe that art is a form of expression and separated from materialism.

What parts of Naoko are in Red Knit Cap Girl?

I created Red Knit Cap Girl as my inner child. I drew her playing in nature with forest animals, which I never had in my real childhood. I came to realize that I wasn’t the only one—people started telling me that Red Knit Cap Girl reminded them of their childhoods. I guess Red Knit Cap Girl could be lots of people’s childhoods! When I realized she wasn’t me anymore, I think I grew up a little bit :)

RKCG2-14

Will we see any more of her adventures?

Yes! I am currently working on the third Red Knit Cap Girl adventure, coming in Fall 2014.

What’s next for you?

As long as I’m able to, I’d like to keep creating. I’m grateful to the people I work with—those who read my books and talk about my work. Thank you so much for interviewing me.

breaker

No, thank you, Naoko for the glimpse into your studio and story-loving soul. We are thankful! Are you as inspired as I am?

Thanks to Little, Brown for the images in this post. (Don’t forget to click on them to see them larger! You won’t be disappointed.)

ch
a funny little bird

A Funny Little Bird

A Funny Little Birdby Jennifer Yerkes

(published 2013, by Sourcebooks)

Jennifer just won the Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators at their 2013 exhibition, The Original Art! Huge congrats! Good eye, jury.

A bird, a fable, and eyes that look past what’s seen to the heart of it all. That’s what’s wrapped up in these pages. I wrote these words about another story recently, but it’s truth here, too: It’s spare, but soars.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

This little bird is almost invisible, and he’s had it. He marches off with soggy, scraggly   claw-steps, and face to almost-face with a magnificent bird. This is when his love affair with beautiful things begins. Because with a collection of beautiful things, he gets noticed.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Negative space is a funny thing, just like this little bird. It’s a puzzle in plain sight, a double-take, and then a heart-smile when you get it. And illusion. An allusion.

In contrast to the stark and white expanses, the color is a splash. Vibrant patterns and saturated colors all unbound by expressive lines. It’s a mashup of flair and restraint, and it will hypnotize you.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

And while you explore this aesthetic playground, settle in a bit with this bird. You won’t be alone.

ch

P.S. – Other books I love with an exploration of negative space? Black and White and Round Trip!

Thanks to Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky for the images in this post.

Big and Small // Fast and Slow

by Britta Teckentrup

{published 2013, by Barefoot Books}

I just lost myself on Britta Teckentrup’s portfolio. Entirely charmed and swept away by every single piece. She’s new to me, and I’m happy to have flailed around in her brain for a bit. And it looks like I have a lot to catch up on!

I have an unusual affinity for board books. Proof: here and here and here. And that’s just a select smattering! But everything that is perfect about a picture book is even more so in a board book.

Smushier, sweeter, chewier.

And these are especially delicious.Fast and Slow shows those opposites side by side. Directly in contrast, varying by speed. The comparison is limited to that spread only, which is a detail that I love. One of the later spreads shows a train and a bus, which of course is double decker and European and fancy. But isn’t a bus faster than even that motorbike up above? Sure, but one spread isn’t competing with others. Little brains noodling that out? Smart.

And speaking of the motorbike page – total favorite. That scarf!The colors are saturated and leap into your eyes.

The type! It’s that perfect teacher-handwritten-style.

But it’s the texture that I love the most. Clean shapes, easy lines, and the slightest bit of grit. Smooth, flat color might have been an easy choice to match those shapes and lines. But in a book about contrast, splashing in some texture is smart.

And it looks awesome.Big and Small’s pairs are tightly knitted. Inside a giant apple is an itty-bitty seed. On top of a vast mountain are individual snowflakes. Those connections are beautiful, and the cat-lion standoff might be my very favorite spread.A perfect addition to your baby-shower rotation, your art class, your tiny one’s library, or just the ever-growing stack surrounding you.

ch

Review copy provided by Barefoot Books.

line135cover

Line 135

by Germano Zullo and Albertine

{published 2013, by Chronicle Books}I’m in that bleary-eyed, inspired, and terrified post-SCBWI haze. Are you?

That’s why this book is perfect for this time. And isn’t that always why picture books are perfect? There’s something magical about those moments that are captured, when the polaroid’s positive sheet has just pulled away from the negative. That moment, exposed. That’s the one I mean.

The creators of Line 135 also collaborated on Little Bird, which has dinged around in my skull for a long time, but I still have no coherent thoughts on it. It’s that enchanting. And of course, my beloved Sky High, which, just – wow.

The line on which this whole story is hinged? My mother and my grandmother say that I am too small to know the entire world.

So how to fit the entire world in this book? It’s a long rectangle. Intentionally and beautifully so, because unfolding the pages reveals more and more train track. The sense of distance is heightened, much like in Sky High, but along the horizon line this time. We travel with this narrator.The endpapers are bright neon green to match the train, and a wordless spread before the journey shows our narrator with her mother. After the trip? a wordless spread with her grandmother. The journey is bound.Albertine’s line drawings include whimsical details like the poofs of exhaust plumes on a highway maze of cars, or weeds growing straight up through the hole in a discarded tire. Always, always speeding forward? That sleek and vibrant train, holding that also vibrant little girl and her wisdom. I love that her capsule is holding all of the color. The black and whites are striking, but her trip (and her truth) stands out.And as the train moves forward, as the narrator grows in confidence and gumption, the illustrations get more fantastic. Gone are the looming skyscrapers of the city, welcome are the sandcastles with turrets and spiral staircases. Isn’t that beautiful? As she becomes more dogged in her determination, her surroundings are less real, less sad, and less intimidating.

Go get this one. Ride a train. Read an adventure. Get swept up in the trip.

chMoreToReadI wrote a thing about my favorite middle grade novels over at Design Mom this week. Did I get your favorites?

Design is a Dandelion

by Janice Lovoos

{published 1966, by Golden Gate Junior Books}

I was in Seattle a few weeks ago. You remember the library, right?

I went to Pike Place Market, because of course, but also because flying fish and dudes in galoshes are a spectacle worth checking out. And I also wanted to get up close and personal with some bluefin tuna eyeballs.

There’s a real reason for that, trust me. But they didn’t have any tuna, so this happened: Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 11.51.46 AM

There’s not a real point to that story except that I adore that tweet (and those two Favoriters) and it’s what I did just before I wandered into Lamplight Books.

It’s like I stole something. Fifteen dollars? Sixty quarters? It still has that magical, musty smell of hidden secrets. And it was mine in a fraction of a split second. That fast.

Because…behold:

 I’m in love. From the texture of a porcupine, to the form of mountains and weeds, to the repetition inside a squash, design is everywhere.

Design is a Dandelion ends like this, with truth and a charge:

Design is everywhere. It is for everyone. All you have to do is to learn to see it. Open your eyes and take a big, long look.

ch

Dangerously Ever After

DangerouslyEverAfterby Dashka Slater, illustrated by Valeria Docampo

{published 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers}

I’m not usually too keen on princess books. I just…don’t get the appeal? And the pink? And the super sweetness?

Princess Amanita is my kind of girl, though. She’s prickly and fearless, and she has a killer hairdo. (I’ll overlook her love for cats. They still make me nervous.)

Remember Dashka Slater? She’s the brain behind a story full of words like stink lilies, heckle-berries, and sentences like ‘It sounded like a troop of monkeys playing tubas.’

Fun, lively, and funny, much as l imagine her to be.

And Valeria Docampo has a sweeping style that evokes a monster sense of wonder in me. This illustration that welcomes you to her website is breathtaking.

Her pictures are a perfect frame for Princess Amanita.

EOD_SHAPE

Shape is just any space that is enclosed by a line. They can be defined and pointy triangles, or round and comforting circles. Or perhaps just the space that’s left behind, in between two lines.

Princess Amanita is thorny on the outside, interested in danger and sharp things. So her hair resembles a scorpion tale, and her dress is outfitted in what looks like metal. Even her garden is prickly.

But she is sweet and friendly underneath it all, so the softness in the curves of her face and dress serve as a subtle reminder to us.

I love this spread. Gradually from left to right, the vines grow from pointy triangular thorns to the muted and organic lines of the Prince’s kingdom. Similar shapes tell a very different story.

And I adore these tiny frames that are dotted through the pages. The shape for these spot illustrations is bound by both curved and straight lines. She’s not all sweet, but she’s not all danger either.

Because really, aren’t we all a bit like that?

ch