workin' hans

Posted on February 02 2007

I just purchased The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen translated by Naiomi Lewis and illustrated by Joel Stewart.

I used to have an Andersen storybook as a child. I didn’t like it much—the tales I read from it were sad or bittersweet. So I didn’t buy this book for the tales (as is often the case) but for the illustrations.

Stewart’s style is reminicent of Giselle Potter, Lisbeth Zwerger, and some Edward Gorey thrown in as well.

In it, two fairies flit across the pages—Fairy Nice and Fairy Noxious, much like the insects of Cricket magazine. The conceit of the illustrations throughout the book has the settings depicted as if they are all performing a series of plays for the reader. There’s a proscenium arch on the cover complete with red curtain. The illustrator smartly limits the theater imagery to the fronticepiece of each tale. Once the page is turned, the pictures fully enter the story, following the child’s imagination. The inventiveness of the drawings contrast with their simplicity. The content is rich, yet the pencil linework is straightforward and unpretentious.

I find my own illustrations are becoming more complex and detailed. I’ve been agonizing over brushstrokes, worried that if I don’t add more chiaroscuro modeling, the work will look flat and unprofessional. Stewart’s guileless line leaves his whimsy unfiltered, and decisive color application keeps the texture from being overwrought. It’s a philosophy that I would do well to incorporate into my own work.