From the Sketchbooks: Dan Yaccarino

h1 January 19th, 2010 by jules

“Pearl’s parents said she had a big imagination, but she knew her friends were real.
‘I can’t wait to move to our new home!’ she told Jack, the cast iron lawn jockey. She turned to Betty, a deer statue, Flo, a pink plastic flamingo and Norm, a ceramic garden gnome. They all agreed, but were a little worried. The ornaments never left their lawn before, but they loved Pearl and would do anything for her.”

(Click to enlarge sketch.)

A good, long while ago (I’m just impressively slow sometimes), illustrator Bill Carman made a lovely and smart suggestion to me: That illustrators stop by 7-Imp occasionally and share some sketches from their sketchbooks. As in, a sort of regular feature, if you will (along with those who share sketches in interviews). I like this idea a lot, not to mention 7-Imp readers seem to like to peek into illustrators’ sketchbooks to see how their right brains work.

Today, I welcome author/illustrator Dan Yaccarino. Dan joined me last April for a breakfast interview; he brought along a Swiss, mushroom, and onion omelette, along with a toasted bialy and some “exceedingly strong” coffee. (Man after my own heart.) He has a brand-new book out (released by Alfred A. Knopf this month), which I very much like. So does the world of print reviewers so far.

Final cover and cover sketch

In Lawn to Lawn, Yaccarino brings us the tale of best-bud lawn ornaments — Jack, Betty, Flo, and Norm. Four friends. They’re tight, too. Here they are separately in all their colorful glory (an image not included in the final book):

Their very best friend is Pearl, the little girl whose family owns them. One day, Pearl’s family packs up and moves away, leaving the gang behind:

Moving day came. Pearl’s parents had packed up everything in the house, but in the confusion, they left a few things behind.

“I may be wrong,” said Norm. “But I think they forgot us.”

“What’ll we do?” squawked Flo.

“If we stay here,” said Betty, “the new owners may store us in the garage—or, worse . . .”

“THE CURB!” they all said.

“And once the trash truck takes a lawn ornament,” declared Jack, “it never comes back.”

Now, I should add that it clearly doesn’t look like the ornaments were left in all the parents’ “confusion.” Only Pearl knows they’re real. One gets the sense that the parents have a clear purpose in mind: For the love of all things holy, get rid of the tacky lawn ornaments! Maybe they’re movin’ on up. It’s possible: They are moving to the Ritzy Estates, it turns out, and they are leaving behind what looks like their velvet Elvis painting. (Whether or not you think this is a tragic decision reflects, arguably, on whether or not you’ve ever been to Graceland.) Publishers Weekly writes that with his “sinuous contemporary art, Yaccarino humorously considers the secret lives of inanimate objects and lampoons the vagaries of taste.” And check out the sketch opening this post, in fact. The parents seem to be looming from inside the house, watching the girl have tea with the lifeless lawn ornaments. Perhaps they’re also over-worrying in that way contemporary parents are wont to do: Our child is talking to a pink lawn flamingo and its “friends.” Let’s ditch ’em! Here’s the final spread. Though this illustration below is the version without the text, I’ll add the final text below. It’s interesting to me (and perhaps other wannabe picture book authors) to see the text’s metamorphosis from early (top of post) to final:

“‘I can’t wait to move to our new home!’ said Pearl. Betty, Flo, Norm, and Jack weren’t so sure. They’d never even left the lawn before. But they all loved Pearl, and where she went, they wanted to go too.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

Determined to find Pearl and having found a map for the ‘ol Ritzy Estates, the four friends set out.

This story, at its center, is one of friendship and sweet loyalty. The sweet-but-never-saccharine kind, that is. I mean, really: Would you set aside great fear and trek many miles for your friend? These guys do. And it’s funny, too: After the ornaments set off, they pass a trash truck. They freeze in fear. Remember, only Pearl knows that they are real. “They’d have to be careful. Some people didn’t love lawn ornaments the way Pearl did.” Mind you, they’ve frozen themselves right in front of Lucky’s Diner. The looks on the faces of the folks entering and leaving the establishment are pretty classic.

They meet all kinds of other great ornaments/statues along the way (featured in the wonderful endpages) — some gnomes, gargoyles, a brave moose statue. It’s the hidden lives of the inanimate, something at which children’s imaginations excel, don’t you know. Granted, Kirkus, who praised the book, still worries that “many children might not have seen lawn ornaments before,” but clearly that reviewer doesn’t live in the South.

And I won’t give away the ending, though I will say: It’s a happy one, despite involving the disdainful lions (or, you know, if you’re a kid, the stuck-up poopy-pants lions, or something similar) of Ritzy Estates’ gates. (And the illustration on the very back cover? Funny stuff.)

Here’s another sketch-to-final-illustration progression. Thanks to Dan for a peek inside his sketchbooks.

* * * * * * *

LAWN TO LAWN. Copyright © 2009 by Dan Yaccarino. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. Sketches and illustrations reproduced with permission of Yaccarino.

9 comments to “From the Sketchbooks: Dan Yaccarino”

  1. Bright, happy, primary colors. I do so love his work. And honestly? The love of a good lawn ornament is just something to be cherished.

    Seriously, someday I plan to have a flamingo. But we can’t go with the velvet Elvis painting.

  2. I’m going to look for Lawn to Lawn. I did have two pink flamingos once, as a joke housewarming present. I ended up passing them along to a friend back East with whom there’s a long-running gag about flamingos (she loves birds in general, but I can’t remember how the flamingo motif started).

    My good friend’s sister ordered an abundance of plastic flamingos to be placed on my friend’s lawn with a sign that said “Happy Birthday, You’ve Been Flocked.” Is that something Eisha might do?!

  3. I used to think all lawn ornaments were tacky, but now I have a new appreciation for them — especially gnome guys (all because of Kelly Fineman). I really want a gnome ornament of my own now. I’ll pass on the pink flamingos (hey, we don’t live in NJ)!

  4. I love seeing raw sketches alongside finished versions!

  5. I have a feeling like Dan is one of those underappreciated artists who doesn’t get enough credit or recognition for all the accomplishments he’s done. These look great!

  6. I agree about him being under appreciated! I had the chance to see the whole book, and it’s a beauty.

  7. Sketchbooks make the world go ’round. Well at least they’re cool. Always liked Dan’s work and I am really happy to get a glimpse in to his thought process.

  8. Is that a tiki umbrella can in the last painting? I want it!

    This makes me wish I hadn’t given up the lawn flamingoes I used to have. Dan is so potent in his simplicity, he makes it look so easy!

  9. This is pretty neat, I’ve read some of Dan Yaccarino’s stuff with my kids and it was cool to read this article!

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