New, true works of art

By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL Associated Press Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) Not many new childrens book illustrators are heralded as the next Maurice Sendak or Eric Carle, or the late Dr. Seuss. And thats OK because theres room for those icons of picture-book art and new stars to shine.

Not many industries can handle an unlimited amount of talent, but picture books can, says Lin Oliver, founder and executive director of the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators. There doesnt have to be a choice whether to move toward computerization or to stick with pen and paper, she says.

The group will gather in New York in February and, for the first time, an entire day of its conference is devoted to artists. The idea is to foster a noncompetitive dialogue between the well-known, such as Tomie dePaola (wholl teach a seminar on personal style), and upstarts.

The picture book is really a fine art form. Its one of the last remaining places you can see fine art in print. I feel its underacknowledged, says Oliver, herself an author and childrens film producer.

Underappreciated? Thats possible. But picture books are hardly shrinking violets at bookstores.

More than 21,000 new childrens titles were published in 2004, the most recent year with figures available, according to Publishers Weekly, citing R.R. Bowkers Books in Print.

Its an astonishing display of talents and styles, and I think its far superior graphically to adult book publishing, Oliver says, noting that childrens books generally give equal emphasis to text and art.

And, she adds, because it can be a lucrative business for both illustrators and publishers theres incentive for up-and-comers. You dont see that in other forms of publishing, or technology, or galleries and museums. This is a commercial enterprise that funds artists and encourages innovation. The industry wants new talent, Oliver says.

In that way, childrens books are similar to films. Audiences adore both traditional cell animation used in Snow White comparable, say, to Sendaks hand-drawn Where the Wild Things Are and the computer-generated imagery in Toy Story, which is more like the photo illustrations by Walter Wick in Jean Marzollos I Spy books.

Then theres still the middle range where art is created by hand and enhanced digitally like The Lion King, says Oliver, whose Hollywood production credits include Harry and the Hendersons and The Trumpet of the Swan.

I think hand art will always be there. Computer-generated looks are really popular with kids because theyre cool to look at and have a graphic feel, but it doesnt communicate as well the human emotion or the individual voice of the artist because there is a machine in between, Oliver says.

Most childrens artists can be identified by their work, in a way similar to the best painters and sculptors, Oliver adds. Luckily, children have a voracious appetite for entertainment and, once they find something they like, they are loyal fans.

Marzollo found her audience receptive when she finally started to illustrate her own books three years ago, after writing more than 100 over almost 30 years.

She had started to paint for her own enjoyment, but when she sat down to write childrens bible story books for Little, Brown, she found herself sketching scenes to help tell the more complicated elements of the stories.

The I Spy books, however, are an interesting collaboration.

Marzollo called Wick directly after receiving a mass-mailing postcard from the special-effects photographer that featured nuts, bolts, nails and a chain. It was like nothing Id seen, she recalls.

Instead of selling her I Spy puzzle-style story to a publisher, which would then choose an artist, Marzollo and Wick put together a complete package. The riddles that I write are made while hes making the picture, she explains.

Shes even learned a thing or two from Wick. I have discovered a wonderful way of doing collage via computer. My computer is my glue and my scissors. I sew pictures. ... Photoshop is art in layers. I can make a garden, I can paint flowers and then scan them like cutting them out and arrange them in a garden.

Marzollo adds, I find that kids are just so creative and open, theyll be open to all styles of art, even before their parents.

DePaola, winner of the 1976 Caldecott Honor Award for Strega Nona and 2000 Newbery Honoree for 26 Fairmount Avenue, thinks that what clicks with kids is art with a personal touch, not one that mimics the style of another successful artist, animator or TV character.

Im a great believer that style comes from the inside out. Now young artists look to see who won the Caldecott or what are the top 10 childrens books selling in The New York Times, says dePaola, but its almost impossible to truly copy something that comes from within.

Exposing children to many different visual styles is doing them a great service, says dePaola. Children who are picture-book age I dont think they have any taste. Their taste is in formation. Let them see as much as they can and then theyll form their own taste.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.