10 Picture Books that Inspire Me
As an illustrator, there have been many, many children’s books that have caught my eye. Children’s picture books are one of the most inspiring uses of illustration. It always brings out the best qualities in artists: playfulness, simplicity, and a sense of joy.
Here are just a few books I have turned to again and again for inspiration. This is just a quick list: I encourage you to check them out for yourself!
Seasons by Blexbolex
Enchanted Lion Books, 2010
What I love about this book: gorgeous, playful, and sometimes strange illustrations made using ingenious collage and printmaking techniques. One of the outstanding features of this book is its pairing of large, hand-lettered words with the images.
The Tiny King by Taro Miura
Candlewick Press, 2013
What I love about this book: Playful, clever and cute illustrations using simple cutout and collage techniques. The design of this book is perfectly minimal, allowing the illustrations to truly shine. I even love the choice of Univers as the font.
Sparkle and Spin by Paul Rand
Written by Ann and Paul Rand
Harcourt, Brace and World, 1957
What I love about this book: Paul Rand is my all-time favourite designer and illustrator. While known more for his work in advertising, branding and commercial art, his techniques and style come through in almost the same way in this book. In other words, he uses the exact same visual language, techniques, and voice in his work for his kids books as he does in his more grown-up world work. This is a testament to his strength of vision as an artist and the “serious about play” attitude he contributed to the design world.
Henri’s Walk to Paris by Saul Bass
What I love about this book: Saul Bass, like Rand, is mostly known for his more “serious” design work, particularly his logos and posters. I love how Bass handles an imaginative story in such a simple and playful way. He takes every possible shortcut in his illustration, finding the quickest way to get to the point without losing the sense of wonder and play. The result: an iconic storybook that both kinds and parents love.
This is San Francisco by Miroslav Sašek
What I love about this book: All of Sašek’s This is series is awesome, but this title is one of my favourites. I feel like this one of all his books shows him at his artistic peak in the series. He’s buttoned down his style, that paradoxically brings together expressive abstraction and attention to realistic details. He’s known for fussing over the most minute details, all the while, allowing his people to express their gestures and attitudes more than realistic anatomy.
A Children’s Garden of Verses, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson
Golden Press, 1951
What I love about this book: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Garden of Verses has been reinterpreted many times by many different illustrators, but no version comes close to the one by Alice and Martin Provensen. Their folksy, Eastern European flavoured gouache and ink illustrations capture the spirit of the 1950s vibe perfectly. I own both the 13th and 20th editions (both found in old book shops). These editions are rarer, although the publisher has re-released a newer version with the Provensen artwork (although in my opinion it’s lost its vintage charm). One of my favourite things about this book is the endpapers!
Veronica by Roger Duvoisin
What I love about this book: I discovered this book, and its illustrator, Roger Duvoisin, in a tiny thrift shop near my house. I love how the illustrations are whimsical, bringing expressive inky lines and large areas of swashy, bold colours, all the while clearly rooted in printmaking techniques. You can see the distinct colours layer over one another. Duvoisin was not just a great illustrator; he was a skilled technician.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
What I love about this book: This book has all the ingredients of a vintage masterpiece. Graphically speaking, what I love about this book is similar to what I love about Miroslsav Sašek’s work: a blend of painting and collage technique. It is clear and expressive, and perfectly captures the sense of play of the experience of the book’s hero: a little boy on the first snowy day of the year.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
What I love about this book: This is one of the first books that ever captured my attention. I remember being read this book in elementary school, and for some reason, the expressive, texture-filled, colourful cutout style just stuck with me. I’ve always been drawn to simple artwork on white or plain backgrounds. Characters and subject matter in Carle’s books are isolated elements composed in negative space, proving that you can pack all the story into one simple, expressive object.
The Dead Bird by Christian Robinson
Written by Margaret Wise Brown
Harper Collins, 2106
What I love about this book: Robinson is a contemporary illustrator whose work is clearly inspired by a bygone era (my favourite era!). This book is just an example of how a playful style can be used to handle a very delicate topic like a group of children encountering death for the first time. Christian Robinson’s work is a beautiful example illustration composed with a blend of painting and collage techniques; of bringing handmade textures and expressive marks and playfully composing them on the page using scissors and glue.