Art and Illustration Styles from
Open the covers of a range of children's books from around Europe and you will discover an exciting variety of different styles of illustration. Here are just a few examples to give you a small taster of the diverse styles of artwork you can find in children's international literature.
Monday is a charming and quirky tale about a little penguin called Monday who likes to stay warm and whose best friends are Yesterday and Tomorrow. They play together and they like spring and autumn. When winter arrives a terrible snow blizzard blows Monday's house away and he disappears without a trace. Where can he have got to?
© Anne Herbauts, Monday, Tate Publishing
This is an unusual creative tale from award-winning Belgium author and illustrator Anne Herbauts. The poetic-like storyline is accompanied by a host of multiple art techniques within its pages. From the watercolour illustrations to the unique die-cut cover and to the raised patterned impressions of the special paper that allows children to feel the snowflakes on the page. As the pages grow thinner, Monday slowly starts to disappear. This is a very tactile book whose innovative illustrations will capture a child's imagination.
© Stella Dreis, text Daniel Hahn, Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head, Phoenix Yard Books
Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head is a zany story about finding out the secret of happiness. Bulgarian illustrator Stella Dreis's illustrations are a riot of colour, surreal detail and larger-than-life characters that are completely eccentric which fill up every page. The differing font sizes and italic in the text is a perfect accompaniment to this stunning artwork.
Like Tomi Ungerer Czech artist Kvĕta Pacovská is another Hans Christian Andersen winner who has only recently appeared to a UK audience despite the fact that she has produced over 75 books and had at least 100 national and international exhibitions dedicated to her works of art in her long and distinguished career.
Pacovská's illustrations stimulate the senses and her art is wide-ranging from painting, graphic art and collage, to objects made of paper. Her books can often be games that include paper-folding, flaps over passages of text, or die-cuts, all the time experimenting with the link between text and image. Her style of using bold, saturated colour combinations in a composition of geometric and abstract shapes, including alphabets and numbers, together with collage, silver foil and tracing paper is unusual.
The Little Flower King is a light hearted, whimsical tale of a King who wants to fill his kingdom with beautiful flowers. Number Circus is a concept book that invites children to play with numbers in an adventurous way. There are square and round flaps to life, doors to open and a mirror to peek in, whilst working through the numbers one to ten. Colour bursts out from every page and the innovative die-cuts make this a unique counting book with a difference.
© Kvĕta Pacovská, The Sun is Yellow, Tate Publishing
The Sun is Yellow is an amazing cornucopia of innovative book design and illustration. There are plenty of windows to open and hidden characters to discover in the magical world of die-cut pages with their dazzling array of reds, yellows, greens and blues that assault the senses.
Pacovská's Cinderella is discussed in more detail in 'Classic Stories: Two Visual Interpretations'.
© Germano Zullo and Albertine, At the Seaside, Tate Publishing
At the Seaside is a visual narrative of a day at the beach by French artists' Germano Zullo and Albertine. Comical cartoon-like caricatures full of fun and humour with minimal text allows the reader to share in all the excitement of a visit to the seaside as they follow the characters from page to page. It is a mass of activity, crammed with stories to find.
Hubbub by Vincent Brocvielle and illustrated by Hervé Tullet is another book set at the seaside. This is a unique blend of art and humour that transports the reader to a summer sun-soaked beach. Hervé Tullet's amusing pictorial interpretation provides colourful and often comic views of humanity as they enjoy their leisure time. The heavy black rough outlines of the figures on the beach, whether they are sunbathing, swimming or playing games, together with their differing shades of bronze bodies in a variety of poses are all magnificently captured by Tullet.
Some of the illustrations are in black and white only – a daub of thick black paint outlining silhouettes on a grey background, while others are in full colour. Although not a book specifically aimed at children, this is suitable for young people who have an interest in art.
Seasons and People are two stunning books by the award-winning comics' artist and illustrator Blexbolex. They are wonderful examples of a minimalistic graphic style of artwork with a retro feel, reminiscent of children's illustrations of the 1960s but still have a contemporary feel at the same time. Blexbolex has created a series of pictures through objects, places and actions that reveals a world that is both permanent and ever-changing.
© Blexbolex, Seasons, Gecko Press
Seasons explores the cycle of the seasons and the passage of time. The illustrated vignettes show a burst of colour that signifies spring and new life. Then there are the more complex concepts; 'Profusion', depicted as a tree full of pink blossom and bees against a bright blue background or 'Fragrance', a multiple colourful mass of leaves and flowers. There are images that represent different emotions from 'Worry', 'Pleasure', 'Sadness' and 'Exuberance', or there are pictures encompassing 'Silence' or 'Disaster'.
© Blexbolex, Seasons, Gecko Press
In People Blexbolex has created an extraordinary world of people – real, historical, mythical and imaginary, all linked in surprising ways. Illustrated vignettes capture the human condition in all its diversity, richness and paradoxes and reveal a subtle, yet thought-provoking visual moral commentary on people.
As well as families and professional people, there are more complex images – a bully, a prankster, a risk-taker, an illusionist, an eccentric and a day-dreamer. There are the images that tell a story - a body, an orphan, an invalid, a distracted man (who walks into a lamp post) or the observational illustrations that include a smoker, a nudist and a homeless person. The pairing of images over double-page spreads helps to create a narrative – a policeman and a thief, a soloist and a listener, a monk and a rabbi and a puppeteer and a puppet.
For each book the matte images are in soft pastel colours paired with a single word in large coloured text. Both books have so many different concepts that invite reflection and discussion.
© Marjolaine Leray, Little Red Hood, Phoenix Yard Books
Little Red Hood is a delightful take on the classic Charles Perrault tale of 'Little Red Riding Hood'. French author and illustrator Marjolaine Leray has created this story out of a scribbled mass of graffiti-esque red crayon and black ink. The first page shows the protagonist as a bright red scribble of a cloak with simple black lines for her face, arm and stick-like legs together with a single stroke of black for an eyelash; the big, bad wolf that looms above her is portrayed as a grey pencil scribble displaying razor sharp teeth against a stark white background. The illustrations, although simplistic in their child-like quality, just ooze style. Leray has managed to ensure with single pencil lines, the expression and body language of her two characters so successfully.
These stories about insects that live in an old woollen blanket are quirky and unique for their stunning visual style of wool embroidery and collage. Alemagna invented a whole new technique of illustration for this book; in order to evoke the hairiness and dustiness she used a mixture of felted wool technique and an amalgam of appliqué, fabrics and stitching that creates a texture-rich world reminiscent of wool and old blankets.
Similarly the wordless picture books by Béatrice Rodriguez about Chicken, Fox, Rooster, Bear and Rabbit in The Chicken Thief, The Treasure Thief and The Fishing Trip are of interest for their style and perspective.
In The Chicken Thief as Rabbit and Bear are about to have their breakfast a hungry fox grabs one of the chickens and races off into the forest with Rooster, Bear and Rabbit in hot pursuit.
© Béatrice Rodriguez, The Chicken Thief, Gecko Press
The pen-and-ink drawings coloured in with watercolour are exquisite. On every two-page spread there are always tiny details to spot such as the arrows showing the path Fox and Chicken take to get out of the mountains, or the badminton racquets and shuttlecock sitting on Fox's hearth. The French breakfast and café style chairs that Rabbit and Bear are sitting on, or the utterly dejected rooster at the end of the story.
The shape of the book also plays its part in how the story progresses. The long, thin shape is perfect for what is essentially one long cross-country chase sequence. Some images take up two full pages while others confuse your sense of perspective – Fox sleeping in a tree on the right-hand page while the other characters are in a tree farther away on the left-hand page. The reader finds themselves drawn to seeking out the fox first and then doubling back to see where the other animals are.
Mr Leon's Paris by Barroux is a delectable picture book about Mr Leon a taxi driver who knows Paris better than anyone as he criss-crosses the city day and night in his orange taxi.
© Barroux, Mr Leon's Paris, Phoenix Yard Books
The pencil and pen and ink illustrations with watercolour wash are almost child-like with the straight lines giving it a stylish simplicity. There is also an appealing hand-drawn map of Paris at the back of the book.
Another award-winning author and illustrator is Tomi Ungerer from the Alsace region of France who has more than 150 books to his name and a museum dedicated to his work in Strasborg. Several of his books have been republished in the UK by Phaidon which has allowed a new generation of children to enjoy his work.
Ungerer always pushes the boundaries, challenging and exploring humanity. His sharp wit and satirical tone is compelling, engaging and sometimes uncomfortable. He has published over 30 children's books. He was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1998.
The sheer range of Ungerer's work shows such variety, whether it is Adelaide with the simple pen and ink drawings using predominantly three main colours – sepia, blue and black with a colour wash background or the The Three Robbers with their creepy silhouette of black against a dark blue night sky that produce an eerie quality, he shows a great diversity.
Moon Man was published in the USA in 1967 at the height of the Space Race and Maurice Sendak (a longtime friend of the illustrator) described it as: 'easily one of the best picture books in recent years'.
Otto, the autobiography of a teddy bear is a powerful and beautiful book that deals with one of the darkest chapters of history – Nazi Germany and the Second World War in a sensitive way.
The series of books about the 'Mellops' family, originally written in the late 1970s and recently reissued by Phaidon are similar to Adelaide with their mix of pen and ink and watercolour images and are very reminiscent of 1960s illustration with the coloured paper background.
Duck, Death and the Tulip is an extraordinarily poignant picture book about death by award-winning German author and illustrator Wolf Elbruch, (probably best known as the illustrator of The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business).
© Wolf Elbruch, Duck, Death and the Tulip, Gecko Press
Duck is terrified when she realises that she is being stalked by an eerie figure in a checkered outfit that has a skull for a head. Death explains that he has always been close by, in case of some mishap. As Death and Duck begin to have philosophical conversations about the afterlife, Duck accepts the presence of Death in her life.
Despite their apparent simplicity the scary skeletal figure of Death, the illustrations have a delicacy and humour that help the reader cope with the immensity of the subject. The images are created in subdued shades which help encapsulate the tension between Duck's love for life and her preparation to let go of it is deftly expressed in her demeanour.
Sheep With Boots is a tale of a cold and hungry Wolf who encounters Sheep who he cunningly persuades to go on an adventure with him.
© Jan Jutte, Sheep with Boots, Gecko Press
Jan Jutte's exquisite black and red pen and ink drawings are full of expression displaying the ego of the wolf and the innocence of the sheep.
Lola and the Rent-a-Cat is an innovative picture book that is both contemporary and universal. When Lola finds herself on her own after having been together for fifty six years with her partner John she is devastated and lonely. With the companionship of a cat called Tim, Lola slowly begins to reminisce about the past, remembering all the good times with John which leads her to embrace life once again, giving her hope for the future.
Ceseli Josephus Jitta's illustrations are distinctive having been created by using a variety of techniques. The pictures often occupy a double-page spread set against a background of old cashbook paper. They depict Lola and John growing old together and the trials and tribulations that it inevitably brings. Sparse text is cleverly used to depict Lola's changing moods and Jitta adapts the colour of the illustrations accordingly; when Lola and John are still together the blazing red of a setting sun is their backdrop while John's funeral is simply depicted with a few grey-brown lines. When Tim appears the pink, red, orange and purple make a cautious return.
The Island by the award-winning illustrator Armin Greder is a poignant and evocative visual narrative that is both stark and sombre in swirling shades of black and grey with the odd flash of colour. Greder's charcoal illustrations evoke a mood of fear and distrust, capturing the violent hatred and prejudice of the islanders. The fear of the man is expressed in the haunting images reminiscent of Edvard Munch's painting 'The Scream'.
The story is about a stranger who is washed ashore on his raft and how the inhabitants of the island treat him because he is different and not like them. The illustrations are thought-provoking displaying at times a callous sense of humour as they demonstrate the prejudice displayed by a society when faced with someone who appears to be different from them.
The City, another deeply evocative book by Greder is the story of a woman who leaves the big city to find a safe place in order to protect her child from all the terrible things that happen in life. In a part of the country where there are no roads or bridges she builds a house where they live happily together. But one night she dies leaving her son unprotected and vulnerable to the dangers of life.
The stark visual narrative is extremely powerful as Greder expertly deals with the human fear and insecurity. The charcoal drawings are mainly of different shades and tones of black and grey, occasionally with a small splash of colour. The use of black and grey together with the extensive use of white convey the feelings of desolation and isolation of the young boy.
Outside In World, 2012
Adelaide, Tomi Ungerer, Phaidon, (2011)
At the Seaside, Germano Zullo & Albertine, Tate Publishing, (2009)
Bugs in a Blanket, Beatrice Alemagne, Phaidon, (2010)
Bugs in the Garden, Beatrice Alemagne, Phaidon, (2011)
The Bug Next Door, Beatrice Alemagne, Phaidon, (2012)
The Chicken Thief, Beatrice Rodriguez, Gecko Press (2011)
Cinderella, Kvĕta Pacovská, Minedition, (2011)
Christmas with the Mellops' Tomi Ungerer, Phaidon, (2012)
The City, Armin Greder, Allen & Unwin, (2010)
Duck, Death and the Tulip, Wolf Elbruch, Gecko Press (2010)
The Fishing Trip, Beatrice Rodriguez, Gecko Press (2012)
Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head, Stella Dreis, text by Daniel Hahn, Phoenix Yard Books, (2012)
Hubbub, Vincent Brocvielle, illustrated by Hervé Tullet, Milet Publishing (2007)
The Island, Armin Greder, Allen & Unwin, (2010)
The Little Flower King, Kvĕta Pacovská, Minedition, (2010)
Little Red Hood, Marjolaine Leray,Phoenix Yard Books, (2011)
Lola and the Rent-a-Cat, Ceseli Josephus Jitta, Frances Lincoln, (2010)
The Mellops Strike Oil, Tomi Ungerer, Phaidon, (2012)
The Mellops Go Diving for Treasure, Tomi Ungerer, Phaidon, (2012)
Monday, Anne Herbauts, Tate Publishing, (2011)
Moon Man, Tomi Ungerer, Phaidon, (2011)
Mr Leon's Paris, Phoenix Yard Books, (2012)
Number Circus, Kvĕta Pacovská, Minedition, (2011)
Otto, Tomi Ungerer, Phaidon, (2011)
People, Blexbolex, Gecko Press, (2012)
Seasons, Blexbolex, Gecko Press, (2011)
Sheep With Boots, Maritgen Malter, illustrated by Jan Jutte, Gecko Press, (2010)
The Sun is Yellow, Kvĕta Pacovská, Tate Publishing, (2012)
The Three Robbers, Tomi Ungerer, Phaidon, (2011)
The Treasure Thief, Beatrice Rodriguez, Gecko Press (2012)
For a pdf version of this article please click below.