Pic­ture this Dilys Evans

Above all, Evans em­pha­sizes that chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tions, whether from a word­less story or from some­thing as lit­er­ate and wordy as The In­ven­tion of Hugo Cabret, are al­ways in ser­vice to the nar­ra­tive.

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Bill Kohlhaasse

Dilys Evans’ 2008 Show & Tell: Ex­plor­ing the Fine Art of Chil­dren’s Book Il­lus­tra­tion is a book about chil­dren’s books, specif­i­cally those fan­ci­ful, of­ten- over­sized vol­umes called pic­ture books. Evans, who l ives part t i me i n Santa Fe, has ar­gued for decades that the origi nal i l lus­tra­tions done for t hese books are wor­thy of dis­play in gal­leries, homes, and other show­cases. “His­tor­i­cally, chil­dren’s books have not been cat­e­go­rized as fine art,” she writes in the au­thor’s note. When she first worked in the art depart­ment of the chil­dren’s mag­a­zine Cricket in the early 1970s, she was sur­prised to learn that there wasn’t much of a mar­ket for her artists’ work. “Many chil­dren’s-book il­lus­tra­tors at that time gave their work away to a spe­cial editor or art di­rec­tor, or in some cases to the au­thor of the book. They cer­tainly never thought about sell­ing it,” she wrote in a 1998 ar­ti­cle for the chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture jour­nal The Horn Book.

Evans told Pasatiempo she wasn’t very fa­mil­iar with chil­dren’s books when she first took the job at

Cricket. “I was raised in Eng­land dur­ing World War II. There weren’t many chil­dren’s books around and what we had were pre­cious.” She came to Amer­ica as a young nurse in 1959 and spent years as an aide to the land­scape painter Nell Blaine, who suf­fered from po­lio. She also tried her hand at paint­ing.

Cricket’s first art di­rec­tor, Trina Schart Hy­man, an il­lus­tra­tor known for her lushly de­tailed ver­sions of “Snow White” and “Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood” (her work is dis­cussed in Show & Tell) hired her as an as­sis­tant. “When I got to Cricket and saw all the won­der­ful pic­tures that were com­ing in, I came to a re­al­iza­tion: This is fine art.” She re­called read­ing a book re­view af­ter she took over as Cricket’s art di­rec­tor that dis­missed the art in a chil­dren’s book as “pretty lit­tle pic­tures.” “Give me a break, I thought. That re­ally got me go­ing on a rant.”

In 1978, she founded Dilys Evans Fine Il­lus­tra­tions and be­gan rep­re­sent­ing the work of var­i­ous chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tors, in­clud­ing some pro­filed in Show & Tell. In 1980, Evans or­ga­nized a galler y ex­hi­bi­tion, The Orig­i­nal Art, an event that col­lected 225 works by 120 il­lus­tra­tors from books that had been pub­lished that year. “It was Christ­mas time,” Evans said, “and we were afraid peo­ple weren’t go­ing to come. But 400 or so peo­ple showed up at the open­ing, fill­ing the gallery and spilling out on the side­walk. The next year, 500 peo­ple turned up.” Evans con­tin­ues to par­tic­i­pate in the an­nual ex­hibit, now or­ga­nized by New York’s So­ci­ety of Il­lus­tra­tors.

The book brings Evans’ ef­forts full cir­cle, re­turn­ing the il­lus­tra­tions to the page. It’s a col­lec­tion of es­says on a dozen of the bet­ter-known il­lus­tra­tors, in­clud­ing Hi­lary Knight, who did the art for Kay Thomp­son’s

Eloise, the pop­u­lar story of the girl who lives on “the tippy-top floor” of New York City’s Plaza Ho­tel; and Brian Selznick, whose size­able book The In­ven­tion of Hugo Cabret in­spired Martin Scors­ese’s 2011 Academy Award-win­ning film Hugo. Evans writes that her pur­pose “was not to pro­file a par­tic­u­lar group of il­lus­tra­tors but to choose a group that would of­fer read­ers as broad a frame of ref­er­ence as pos­si­ble,” giv­ing read­ers per­spec­tive on “the range of styles, tech­niques, and con­tent” con­tained in pic­ture books, while “find­ing a uni­ver­sal lan­guage to us to talk about art on the page.”

That lan­guage turns out to be the same lan­guage used to dis­cuss all fine art. She de­scribes the work, both se­ri­ous and silly, in terms of line, mo­tion, color, and tone. She finds qual­i­ties that sug­gest artis­tic cat­e­gory and spots in­flu­ence, see­ing hints of Mil­ton Avery, Arthur Dove, and Miró in the somberly col­ored work of Pe­tra Mathers. She sees mean­ing in sub­tlety, un­cov­er­ing the hu­man­ity sug­gested by a sub­ject’s po­si­tion, pos­ture, and fa­cial ex­pres­sions in the works. Above all, she em­pha­sizes that chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tions, whether from a word­less story or from some­thing as lit­er­ate and wordy as The In­ven­tion

of Hugo Cabret, are al­ways in ser­vice to the nar­ra­tive (many pic­ture book au­thors both write and il­lus­trate their work). “It’s a chal­lenge,” Evans said. “You can’t just make a pic­ture. Ev­ery pic­ture has a story. It has to tell as well as show.”

This sto­ry­telling abil­ity of a book’s pic­tures is es­pe­cially im­por­tant to its tar­get au­di­ence, chil­dren who have yet or are just com­ing into read­ing age and the adults who read to them. “Even the youngest chil­dren start as­so­ci­at­ing the words with pic­tures, “Evans said. “They start look­ing for the spe­cific words that tell what the pic­tures say. Pic­tures help them put it all to­gether.” Like show and tell.

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