A big part of our job as illustrators is to show our characters exist and move through a world that is real and full of sensory experiences. Specificity of setting is essential, and conjuring particular weather is a powerful way to draw readers into a scene.
Kenard Pak offers up a master lesson in this approach in Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, part of his series of picture books capturing the moments when one season transitions into the next.
As a young girl and a dog wander from her house through fields and woods to her town’s main street and back home again, their world transforms before our eyes. Leaves take flight and busy animals prepare for cooler weather amid a deepening palette. Pak plays with color and value notes, negative and positive contrast, and various degrees of transparency in his expansive two-page spreads. His lively scenes use the bare minimum of details, often with repetitive pattern stamping, to create appealing motifs throughout the book. The story arc of the walk, with its many sights and nuances, concludes with all creatures, human and otherwise, snug and cozy in their various shelters. Then we turn the page to greet a new season.
For a great interview with Kenard Pak and to see more of his artwork, check out this post on the Art of the Picture Book blog.
Kate, Who Tamed the Wind achieves pure magic thanks to an inspired pairing of illustrator to author. With rhythms that ebb and swirl and lift off the page, Caldecott Honor recipient Liz Garton Scanlon’s words bring to life the wind that bedevils young Kate’s neighbor, the man who lives all alone on the tip-top of very steep and gusty hill. Illustrator Lee White’s whimsical art anchors us to the dynamic story and its characters even as we sense the tug of the wind through every clothesline and curtain and barely attached shutter.
White’s fantastical and highly stylized images show us many different views of the wind-swept house and its exaggerated hill, making young readers comfortable with his main set piece. His renderings of Kate and her hilltop neighbor are expressive and relatable, and we understand the depth of the problem and their determination to fix it.
White’s page spreads build carefully and patiently, with a pattern stamping approach and masterful use of repetition with variation, allowing the story and its solution to unfold over time, like nature itself.
Newberry medalist Karen Hesse and illustrator Jon J. Muth recreate the joyous experience of rain on a scorching summer day in Come On, Rain! Muth’s initial scenes sizzle with warm yellows and oranges as people and plants alike wilt in the unrelenting city heat. His classic watercolor glazing with minimal outlining eventually allows some cool blues and greens to seep in with the storm clouds amassing. Readers can sense the drop in temperature when young Tess whispers to her friend, “It’s going to rain.”
Throughout, Muth’s restrained and spare brushwork with minimal outlining leaves plenty of breathing room for Hesse’s evocative words.
Of particular note is the double-page spread of children’s bare feet and the first glossy raindrops plopping down on a dry, dusty, granular background. Before long the girls are dancing in the cool rain and their moms join them in a raucous, puddle stomping romp. Like all summer showers, the rain soon recedes, but everyone moves on with a lighter step.
In Snow, Sam Usher nails a child’s perspective of the first big snowfall of the season – that exciting glimpse of blindingly white, fresh snow, the endless clothes layering required, and the inevitable, glacial slowness of adult companions. In this case, the boy’s granddad is holding up the show, but the pair get out the door at last, and wild, wintery hijinks ensue.
Usher combines exuberant cartoon touches with scratchy pen-line technique and a rich, painterly, and often wet-into-wet watercolor style. It’s clear Usher knows when to play things big and when to play them small to best effect The myriad fine details are subordinate to the big gestural shapes, and Usher contrasts active scenes with fadeouts and negative space to emphasize the great expanses of snow.
The boy and the neighborhood kids bounce elf-like through the page spreads, trailed by the wonderfully proper grandfather who hasn’t forgotten how to win a snowball fight. Snow is part of Usher’s Seasons with Granddad series.
We like to create a feeling of weather in outdoor scenes as a backdrop, a way to set a mood or atmosphere for a story scene.
A sense of time and place can be very important for an illustration. We’ve reached that time of year in North America where the seasonal shift is pronounced. So Julie and I figured The Weather Outside was the perfect theme for September’s blog post, and we knew you’d enjoy knowing about these picture books where the creators make sure the weather and the changes in weather are felt in their words and imagery, and in these particular cases, beautifully evoked. We carry the idea of The Weather Outside into our September Deep Dive, set for Wednesday, September 29 where we’ll paint a scene from Little Red Riding Hood. Let’s try for the moment of the first encounter between Little Red and the wolf. We’ll set it in the dead of winter. As we compile our visual references for our picture(s) we can learn some tips from these YouTube painters about how they emphasize seasonal weather in their watercolors, like drippy rain, autumnal color changes, and the muffling effect of snow.
Eric Yi Lin of the channel Watercolor Cafe shows how reflections with a full range of values convey a sense of wetness and rainy days have a way of blurring details and connecting shapes into simple value masses. I love the gentle rain sounds he included in the backdrop of his video.
Yong Chen of Enjoy Art. com recreates a snow scene on paper he’s thoroughly wetted with water and blue and brown tints. The design relies on the simple foreshortening of the gray fence as it rolls back into the picture space. There’s no clear directional light in his reference photo, Chen notes. So he moves ahead with a simple light mid-tone value for the woods in the back and the lines of the fence. The only darks occur in the section of fence closest to us.
For such a wintery day, soft edges are important in the background clump of trees. He achieves that blurry look on the trunks and branches with a kind of dry brush on the damp paper. He shifts gears for more sharply focused textures on the foreground fence. With an Exacto knife, he scratches gently into the painted surface to reveal the white cotton Arches paper, driving home the feeling of a very fresh snowfall.
Ekaterina Smirnova paints her darkest darks, blackened greens over her lightest warm yellows to shape her shadows and demonstrate how the sharpest value contrasts are quite appropriate for the radical color changes of fall. With Tim Wilmot’s depiction of a man walking with his dogs on a snowy mountain road, you can practically feel the cold brisk winter air in your nostrils and the sunshine hitting your shoulders. –Mark Mitchell