With a few exceptions, my favorite artists have not been traditional artists, but illustrators. Because of the beautiful illustrations. I've never stopped loving and revisiting children's books. Although illustration isn't generally considered to be "serious" art, you know what I think? I think the illustrations accompanying a good story bring just as much joy and illumination to the world as any great painting, if not more.
There are so many illustrators whose work I love and adore that it's almost impossible to whittle it down to six top favorites. Seriously, with artists like Graham Oakley, Tomie DePaula, Tasha Tudor, Real Musgrave, Mary Hanson Roberts, Maurice Sendak, Leo Politi, Barbara Ninde Byfield, Barbara Lavallee and Phil Foglio, how on earth do I leave them out of the top spots? It was hard!
I find that my favorite illustrators generally all have something in common. Fluid lines, soft curves, colors that are soft or bright or rich but never garish, lots of detail but not cluttered, hidden jokes in the background, and most often a sense of humor and love and joy, words I'll mention again and again here.
Of course, of my very favorite, there was no question, but all the others? It came down to sheer joy. I love every single illustrator/artist I mention here, but here are the ones who mean the most to me and a bit about why:
- Nikki McClure. She is the most recent addition to my favorites, and possibly the most unconventional in her technique. Based in the NW, Nikki McClure does beautifully detailed paper cut illustrations. I love the sharp graphic contrasts in her images, as well as her subject material. She focuses a lot on simple, sustainable pleasures, and I feel like her art is about living in this place with joy and love.
- Hillary Knight. Probably best known for his character "Eloise", I first encountered Knight's work in the pages of "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" and Cricket Magazine (a huge, huge influence on me from a really tender age). He's really good at portraying movement and flow. His work always makes me smile.
- Edward Gorey.
I wouldn't be me if there weren't one radically different artist on the list. Gorey's work is dark, creepy, sly and humorous. I love the neo-Victorian/Edwardian feel of his work. Very steampunk. The man himself was a flaming eccentric. Somehow, I identify just a bit.
- Mercer Mayer. His illustrations have a marvelously textured feel to them. Smooth, clean lines, lots of detail, lots of texture. He really can stuff a lot of detail and imagery onto a page but without ever feeling cluttered. He's got a really distinctive visual voice. It seems like his most frequent subject is fairy tales, which I've always loved.
- Mary Engelbreit. Sometimes dismissed as being "too cute," her work is sweetly nostalgic, soft and fun. I picked up her biography at Title Wave recently. It was a revelation. She taught herself how to draw at an early age, with loving encouragement from her family, bypassed art school and launched her career from a job at an art supply store. I was
almostin tears when, looking closely at the pictures in the book, I realized I could see the marks from her colored pens. I've always thought that somehow I was doing it wrong because you could see the pen strokes where I've colored my drawings. I haven't been doing it wrong. That's huge to me.
- Trina Schart Hyman. My all time favorite. Another early-age encounter in the pages of Cricket Magazine, another illustrator of fairy tales. Her work was full of strong lines and misty colors. I always loved the contrast. She found a lot of magic in everyday objects and settings. I can't really explain why her work spoke to me so deeply, but there it is. She died of breast cancer in 2004. I cried when I found out.