Children’s book illustration is an art form in itself. I find it particularly interesting when illustrators are behind both the imagery and the text of a book, as their stories sometimes seem to take their inspiration from a visual idea or concept rather than the other way around. The story exists because of the imagery. I think this is a fascinating ‘sub-genre’ of children’s literature, and these books often inspire me when devising children’s art projects.
A wonderful example of an illustrator/author is Japanese printmaker, Kazuno Kohara. Her bold, linocut prints using only black, orange and white are essential to the concept of her simple story of a witch catching ghosts – The Haunted House – and inspired my Halloween project for Art Club last year – Spooky Haunted Houses: Inspired by Kazuno Kohara (Oct 2011) – click here to view that post.
Coincidentally, this Halloween I devised another art project (for my group aged four to six years) inspired by an illustrator’s storybook.
The text on each page asks the question “what can this be in the foggy, foggy forest?”, and as you leaf through the book, each silhouetted character is revealed in full colour on the reverse of the page, as if the fog has lifted or you have got close enough to see clearly.
My favourite aspect of the illustrations is the ingenious way that, through each semi-transparent page, you can see the outlines of the trees on the next few pages, creating the effect of walking deeper and deeper into a foggy fairytale forest.
The cloudy whiteness of the paper recreates exactly the way that a foggy atmosphere filters colour and light, so that the distant trees are less clearly defined and appear to become paler in tone as they get further and further away from us. This optical effect is called ‘aerial perspective’ and is beautifully demonstrated in this photograph, which I showed to the children after reading the story to them.
Inspired by Nick Sharratt’s illustrations, I showed the children how create the effect of ‘aerial perspective’ using several sheets of translucent tracing paper. Starting with a sheet of white paper and a grey oil pastel, each child drew two or three trees leaving spaces in between.
Before they started drawing we briefly discussed the structure of trees, and how best to draw them – starting with a tall trunk that gets thinner as it grows higher, then the branches that grow out from the trunk, followed by the smaller twigs along each branch. I also demonstrated how to vary the shape of their trees, by drawing a bendy trunk instead of a straight one, or by adding downward-pointing branches to draw a fir tree.
When their first sheet of drawings was finished I gave them a sheet of tracing paper to place on top, and they drew two or three more trees, being careful to position them in the spaces between the trees they drew on the first sheet. The children continued to add layers by drawing trees on one or two more sheets of tracing paper.
For the upper pages they used black oil pastel (rather than grey) to increase the contrast between the trees in the foreground and those in the foggy background. The project could be done using black oil pastel for every layer, however I feel that the grey creates a more mysterious atmosphere as the viewer progresses deeper into the forest, page by page.
The grey tone used for the first sheet of drawings also matches well with the colour of lead pencil, which the children used next to add some Halloween details to their bottom layer (the one drawn on paper). The kids had great fun drawing all sorts of spooky details within the trees – haunted houses, witches, pumpkins, monsters, spiders in webs, bats and cats!
Finally, the children reassembled their layers of tissue paper in the right order and I stapled the whole thing together to make a book.
Just like Nick Sharratt’s book, the children’s foggy forests are full of spooky surprises hidden within the trees, which slowly become apparent as you turn the pages and go deeper into the forest!
This was such a fun activity. As well as exercising their imaginations, the children got lots of practice at drawing trees of different shapes and sizes, and learned a little bit about the atmospheric effects of light, tone and how to create the impression of space in a landscape.
Stunning work by young children aged between four and six years old…
Please click through the gallery below…