I’ve always been unsure about whether it’s a good idea to write here about work-related matters. However, I just can’t resist saying a little something about the great event I was involved with organising at the Free Word Centre earlier this week.
Free Word is London’s new international centre for literature, literacy and freedom of expression. To celebrate the launch of this exciting new venue, Free Word is currently playing host to the first ever Free Word Festival, with events being organised by all the founder organisations – Apples and Snakes, Article 19, Booktrust, English PEN, Index on Censorship, The Arvon Foundation, The Literary Consultancy and The Reading Agency.
Words and Pictures was Booktrust’s contribution to the festival, bringing Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne, together with fellow award-winning illustrators Emily Gravett and Catherine Rayner to take part in a discussion about the value of picture books. These are three fantastic illustrators, with very different styles and approaches, and it was fascinating to hear them talking about their attitudes to making picture books.
Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne has published over 40 books, and won numerous awards including the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Prize. His celebrated illustrations are strongly influenced by fine art and surrealism in particular. His characters (often his trademark gorillas or chimpanzees) inhabit a finely-detailed world, where visual clues help to convey a hidden meaning or to tell a story that may be only hinted at in the text. My favourite amongst his books is undoubtedly Gorilla, which I have vivid memories of reading as a child.
Anthony Browne, Voices in the Park, published by Random House
Emily Gravett’s first book Wolves was published to much acclaim in 2005, winning several awards including the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her subsequent picture books have featured a menagerie of lovely animal characters, all drawn in her distinctive illustrative style, which often incorporates collage techniques. She is especially interested in books as objects that children can engage and interact with – I love her anarchic approach in both Wolves and also her newest book The Rabbit Problem.
Emily Gravett, Wolves, published by Macmillan
Catherine Rayner won this year’s Kate Greenaway Medal with her book Harris Finds His Feet. Her beautiful, painterly illustrations of animals have won comparisons with one of my favourite ever children’s book illustrators, Brian Wildsmith. I’m intrigued by the way she plays with the use of white space in her books, and experiments with design to compose each page in a unique and interesting way – and I especially love her gorgeous use of colour in Augustus and His Smile.
Catherine Rayner, Augustus and His Smile, published by Little Tiger
The thought-provoking and entertaining discussion that ensued, expertly chaired by Sunday Times journalist Nicolette Jones, covered everything from their favourite childhood picture books, to their individual stories of how they became children’s book illustrators, to why they all believe picture books to be one of the most important and influential forms of art. Here’s a few videos from the event:
The event finished with all three illustrators playing “the shape game” – a fun, collaborative drawing game that Anthony Browne is promoting as part of his laureateship as a way to encourage children (and adults) to draw, invent stories, and be creative.
Works by all three illustrators will be on display in the hall area of the Free Word Centre until the end of September. Find out more about the Free Word Festival and the other events coming up here.
I was recently given a copy of The Arrival by Shaun Tan. I’ve never come across Tan’s work before, but after reading this thoughtful, beautifully-illustrated book – which is poised somewhere between a graphic novel and a children’s picture book – I’m an instant fan.
The Arrival is a universal story of migration and displacement, told through a series of wordless images. A man leaves his wife and child behind in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country of unknown customs and behaviours, mysterious objects, peculiar animals and indecipherable languages. Luckily many of the strangers he meets in this new metropolis have shared his experience, and transcending barriers of language and difference, are keen to help him on his way.
Tan’s exquisitely detailed illustrations in sepia tones evoke old family photographs and histories, creating a powerful nostalgic quality: this could easily be a story from some forgotten lost time gone before. However this hopeful, wistful tale is also peculiarly contemporary on its take on the universality of migrant experience, and the importance of communities and belonging. As Tan himself suggests in this interesting commentary on how the book came to be written, ‘we might do well to think of ourselves as possible strangers in our own strange land.’
It’s Monday again… and Monday is the time for brightly-coloured, cheering things, especially when it’s February and toes are cold, and spring still feels an unfeasibly long time away.
Today, I am admiring these beautiful illustrations by artist Charley Harper. Inspired by the simplicity of Inuit art and movements like Cubism and Minimalism, as well as the mathematics, geometry and physics, Harper developed a style he termed “minimal realism” which aimed to capture the elements of his subjects (usually animals and birds), reducing them to a series of simple visual elements such as shapes, patterns and colours. Working in direct opposition to conventional “superrealistic” illustrations of nature and wildlife, he characterised his unique approach as follows:
When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe.
I am currently coveting this fabulous (and enormous) monograph of Harper’s work, entitled Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life, which brings together images from all five decades of his career – however with an RRP of £99.95 I think it’s going to have to stay on the wish list only!
Other things that have cheered up my Monday include: the first spring daffodils; blueberries and strawberries in my fruit salad; fleeting moments of sunshine; my growing addiction to we heart it; button earrings and black satin bows; soya hot chocolate as a mid-morning treat; the excellent Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl; and the prospect of maybe checking out this when I go down to London later this week.
Monday is a day to look at pretty things… especially when you’re still full of illness and have very cold toes and need something colourful to brighten up your day.
Today I’m loving these fabulous illustrations by Rene Gruau, which capture so perfectly the spirit of late 1940s and early 1950s fashion and design, evoking all the glamour and elegance of the post-war “New Look”. Famously self-taught, Gruau took inspiration from diverse sources, looking to art nouveau, traditional Japanese prints, and the work of artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec to develop his distinctive graphic style and colour palette. Today, he is probably best remembered for his fashion illustrations for Dior, which epitomise Parisian chic: Dior first commissioned him back in 1947 for the launch of the Miss Dior fragrance. However, he also worked for a range of other “grands couturiers” including Pierrre Balamin, Marcel Rochas and Givenchy, illustrated for magazines including Harper’s, Vogue and Elle and designed posters for Paris institutions such as the Lido and the Moulin Rouge cabarets, as well as iconic French brands including Cinzano, Martini and Air France.
Other things which have cheered up my Monday include: perfect orange tulips; leopard print socks; a new blog find, little brown pen; dairy-free chocolate brownies; and of course, watching the snow fall – the view from my window has been transformed into a white fairytale world. (So much better of course when you don’t have to go anywhere and can sit at home under the blanket, listening to reports of snow related chaos on Radio 4)
I found another interesting web-based project recently, which seems very appropriate for my daily post of goodness. Booooooom! and Design for Mankind have joined forces to create Free encouragement, a project which is absolutely all about positivity and nice things. The idea behind the project is to counteract the negativity that we find “all around us these days… infesting the internet… taking over the big screen… showing up on your bank statement”.
The first part of the project, led by Booooooom!, has been the creation of an online ‘gallery of encouragement’ – anyone can submit their own personal encouraging messages to the project: “You can use this gallery to encourage a close friend or someone you just happened to pass by on the street. You can encourage a relative who may be ill or the girl who handed you your coffee this morning. You could even use this place to encourage yourself!” You can see the gallery here, which makes very entertaining reading. The images here are some of my personal favourites from the gallery.
The second half of the project, led by Design for Mankind, has not yet been announced – it’s veiled in mystery until it kicks off this Friday. I’m intrigued to see what will happen next, but there’s no doubt that it will certainly be cheerful.
I went back to work today. It was quite challenging, but I survived the day and made it home, despite the freezing cold, and nearly falling over on the ice about a hundred times on the short walk from the train station back to my house. Here are some other cheerful and lovely things from my day:
Frosty hedgerows and sunshine in the morning
Steak and kidney pudding, chips, gravy and peas for lunch (which really should have been on my ‘100 favourite things list I think) – greedy but good