It was just a while ago that 7-Imp readers and I were discussing the art of non-busy illustrations. However, sometimes, as noted then, books call for them. Elisa Chavarri, today’s featured illustrator (wave to her and her tiny friend to the left here)—who was born in Peru, who is still fairly new to children’s book illustration, and who is also an animator and studied Classical Animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design—puts them to use in her newly-illustrated title (rendered via mixed media), written by Esmé Raji Codell, Fairly Fairy Tales (Aladdin, January 2011). This is a spare text with detailed illustrations. Or, if you’re Kirkus: “By beginning with Codell’s creative less-is-more setup, Chavarri’s illustrations end by stealing the show.”
I invited blogger extraordinaire Esmé (you can wave to her, too, here below), as well as Elisa, over for some cyber-coffee this morning to discuss this book of fractured fairy tales. But first, a bit more about the book…
We are talkin’ fairy tales here, so it all kicks off with a “once upon a time,” but then Esmé kicks it up a notch, while also paring it all down, with a series of one-word questions devoted to various fairy tales. A mother puts her young son to bed: “Kiss? Yes. Water? Yes. Bedtime? NOOOOO!” Here come the Three Little Pigs to the rescue. In spot illustrations, we see “Sticks? Yes. Straw? Yes. Bricks? Yes. Solar panels? NOOOOO!” This is the drill for each fairy tale. (The Three Little Pigs are followed by Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and The Three Bears.) But each fairy-tale moment ends with a detailed double-page spread that proposes a “well, maybe” scenario, each one fairly outlandish and unexpected: Those solar panels get put to use after all, and an all-organic community garden springs up in the pigs’ new neighborhood (as you can see in the spread Elisa shares below); Red’s grandma opens a beauty salon for wolves (also below); Cinderella and her prince go disco-dancing; and more.
Esmé talks about this title—a kickin’ choice for a story-time read-aloud, given all the audience participation involved—in this January post at her wonderful blog:
The inspiration for this book started with an experience I had reading aloud Paul Galdone’s CAT GOES FIDDLE-I-FEE to preschoolers, in the style taught to me by my former boss and mentor Andy Laties. I hold up the book, where there is clearly a picture of a duck, and carelessly say it is a picture of a tractor, or a pizza, or a rhinoceros, or a pair of underpants. The children immediately correct/chide me. “Nooooooooo!” What fun to correct dumb grown-ups! Later, when I was working on a book about preschool, I visited a classroom to brainstorm about what should go in it, and remembered this tack. I showed them a bunch of pictures of things that might be in a classroom, such as blocks, a sand table, chairs, and…a Tyrannosaurus Rex. “Nooooooo!” cried all the children, except for one boy, a literalist, who promptly went to the toy box and pulled out a seven-inch plastic dinosaur. “Well, maybe,” I had to concede. We were off and running. Space alien? Well, maybe, if one landed from Saturn. Cupcake? Well, maybe, if it were somebody’s birthday and someone’s mom brought them in. “Noooooo” is mighty fun. But the idea of possibility…the “well, maybe!” of it all…that’s even funnerer. And that’s the spirit I tried to put in this book, which was originally titled Well, Maybe (until the marketers thought, well, maybe something else)…
“Chavarri renders the traditional fairy tale elements in tidy, pretty spot illustrations, and the modern-day variations in freewheeling, comically detailed spreads,” writes Publishers Weekly. Esmé points out (with much glee) in her post that illustrator Tom Lichtenheld has noted the illustrations for this title look “like a classic Golden Book, updated.” Hmmm…I think he’s on to something.
Here’s Elisa to tell us a bit more, and then Esmé has a bit more to add. I thank them both for stopping by.
Elisa: When I first got the email from Simon & Schuster asking if I was interested in illustrating Esmé’s latest book, a fractured fairy tale picture book, I was so excited I couldn’t believe it was true, and I re-read the email a few times to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself. When I read the text, I was even more excited! I immediately loved the concept. How exciting as an illustrator to get to touch on so many classic fairy tales in one book! I thought, this is EXACTLY the kind of book I want to be illustrating. It also meant a lot to me that it was the author who had picked me to illustrate her book.
Creating these illustrations was a fun challenge. There are many different character designs involved of beloved fairy tale characters. It was great to get to do my own take on them. Getting to switch from single illustrations on white backgrounds to super busy two-page spreads kept things interesting. The talented folks at Simon & Schuster were also wonderful to work with. I loved working with my enthusiastic editor (Emily!) and designer (Lisa!); they gave great feedback and really helped me grow as an illustrator.
My work is mostly digital, but for this project especially I experimented quite a bit with mixed media. I scanned fabrics (like my mom’s vintage shirts!) to incorporate into the illustrations as tablecloths, clothing patterns, wallpapers and more. I took pictures of textures like my dog’s fur, or a burnt pizza crust, and even candy, to mix in with the illustrations. There are also hand painted textures in the mix, which I’ve been using in my illustrations for some time.
The following is an evolution from sketches to final illustration on the Little Red Riding Hood pages.
I started with some character design ideas:
Then I moved on to some very rough layout sketches and ideas:
The editors picked rough sketch #3, so I worked on getting it just right:
Here was an alternate idea of the wolf enjoying his shampooing (but in the end a mad wolf seemed a little bit funnier):
These are the final sketches before moving on to full color:
Here’s another quick breakdown showing the Three Little Pigs pages:
I still get a kick out of this hysterical pigs version that didn’t make the cut:
Final spread sketch:
Currently, I’m finishing up work on a picture book for HarperCollins which I think might be releasing in the fall. Other than that I keep busy with magazine work and the variety of random projects that roll my way. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more picture book work, and I would especially love the opportunity to illustrate Esmé’s work again!
Esmé: As you can see from her process as well as her product, Elisa is a creative force, a major new break-out talent with a 21st-century style that is bound to enjoy a following. I say this without bias; her artwork made my eyes go wide and my heart beat faster long before she ever illustrated my own book.
I must say, for a story with “Nooooo!” as a repeated refrain, this book was a whole lot of yes. Yes to a bright, cheerful editor who let an author offer a suggestion about which artist might be a good match. Yes to an illustrator who took the text and ran with it in picture after knock-out picture, not only depicting what I wrote but adding a thousand new dimensions. Yes to preschool audiences, and their parents and teachers, who I trust will all make it their own through read-aloud. And hopefully yes to working again (and again and again) with Elisa in the future, if I should be so lucky.
FAIRLY FAIRY TALES. Copyright © 2011 by Esmé Raji Codell. Illustration © 2011 by Elisa Chavarri. Published by Aladdin, New York. All art work and sketches used with permission of the illustrator.