Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vignette: Fairytale Illustrations

     One of the things I enjoy most about children's picture books is the chance to scope out other artists and their work, to learn how someone else sees a story, and to experience a tale the way an illustrator thinks of it. Words without pictures become what they will to whomever reads it.  A picture with words attached to it becomes a tale.  Without a tale a picture becomes a personal mystery perhaps like these pictures below.  If you haven't read the tales they were pulled from, you will find that each picture leaves you guessing as to the kind of story they belong to.  
     I unashamedly choose fantasy tales as often as I can to look through.  One of my art teachers in college turned his nose up at my final project one year as I had decided to depict fourteen different scenes from fairytales instead of throwing coffee and dirt on paper bags to show my inner artistic angst.  I could have been bothered by this had he not been an artist who thought wooden two by fours with neon paint hung at odd angles on the wall was a step towards art instead of a cop out like myself.       
     Nevertheless, I still regard classic fairytale and fantasy stories as a high form of art and I've chosen a few pieces from various stories that I love so that you can see what I love most and what I bring into my house for my children.  Many of these stories were read to me as a child and I cannot imagine a library without them.  I choose them for different reasons but the basic idea is thus: they must be good and they must be beautiful.  All of these artists are at the top of their class and I hope you enjoy them as much as I. 

Chris Van Allsburg: The Wreck Of The Zephyr
Van Allsburg has a chunky almost Seurat-like style, especially when it comes to people.  Everything is beautifully detailed and full, even when he is illustrating without color as he often does.

Mercer Mayer: East Of The Sun West Of The Moon
This tale is full of amazing illustrations and I love the details, the beautiful colors infused into each page, and the almost Russian feel of the people and their clothing.  This is truly a masterpiece.

Eyvind Earle
Earle painted the backgrounds for Disney's Sleeping Beauty and his dreamlike landscapes are a dramatic fight for light and dark.  He also coincidentally has a gallery in Carmel, which is nearby my hometown.

Errol Le Cain
To me, this illustrator's work feels like delicate cloisonne.  Though his characters are often stylized in an almost renaissance tapestry feel, the pictures gain from it and I find myself drawn into the story. 

John Howe: The Lord Of The Rings
Howe's illustrations are of a first class nature and if possible he has brought more life and more imagination into Tolkien's works.

Scott Gustafson: Sleeping Beauty
Gustafson is a wonderful artist I would also categorize as chunky.  His characters often have the feel of an enriched Norman Rockwell picture, due to their often longer necks, shiny noses, and gently surprised expressions. 

Amy Erhlich: The Wild Swans
Erhlich has a light touch and an unmistakable style that you can spot from across the room.  The colors are usually muted and the details very fine.  This story is a wonderful example of her exemplary work.

Eric Kincaid and Eric Rowe : Tales of Magic And Make Believe
The illustrations to this book are a part of my childhood and they are amazing to look through.  I had hoped to find a page with Puck on it and the bride with the rainbow dress, but this page is what is out there.  

Trina Schart Hyman: Snow White
My favorite illustrator by far, though Sleeping Beauty must be my favorite tale of hers.  She is also very adept at using dramatic light play in her pictures and her characters and fine details are so magnificent that each picture becomes a jewel, almost as if it were stained glass.

Ul De Rico : The Rainbow Goblins
Ah, the Rainbow Goblins.  I confess I haven't read anything else by Ul De Rico but this story again was part of my childhood.  These pictures were done on wood and they are so vibrant and grand.  

Now, I don't mean to bankrupt you or anything but you should really have these in your library.  If you can't afford them you must go to the local library (assuming there is still such a thing in your area) and get them!  You won't regret it.  Happy exploring!


  1. You have such good taste! I assume you're a Maxfield Parish fan too?

  2. Thanks! I do enjoy some of his work, yes. I don't know it really well despite how much it's out there. Do you have a favorite of his?

  3. I was going to say how much I love the Errol one, but alas I love them all!

  4. Susan Jeffers did The Wild Swans; Amy Erlich was the author!