It's Christmastime here in the Northeast already, and this kale plant in the community garden behind my house has got me thinking of palm trees in snow. Ironically, I find myself working on another book which takes place in hot, sunny Africa. Three years ago around this time, I was illustrating Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan, a lullaby story that takes place in Tanzania, eastern Africa.
Now the book I'm working on takes place in the Gambia, western Africa, and I can't help but see the paradox in the situation! Growing up in the Ivory Coast in the 1980's-90's, two of my favorite books were Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr and The Snowy Day written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats- odd, for a kid living in a tropical paradise!
I marveled at the illustrations of white stuff covering the ground. I had several of books on tape, including Owl Moon. I LOVED it! Jane Yolen's voice is so calm and firm, and the music is awesome too- very atmospheric.
Maybe it was the search of something that seemed so ethereal as an owl sighting which captivated me.
Or maybe it was the color palette of blues and whites and blacks of the illustrations, the solitude of being out in the quiet woods the starkness of winter white, or the alien-ness of it: being bundled up in a puffy coat, hat, scarf, mittens or snowsuit to go outside.
I recently re-bought a copy of Owl Moon for my home office, and it's perfect to read on a winter day like today.
I loved The Snowy Day for the bright, happy cut paper illustrations, a totally different feel from Owl Moon but a quintessential winter story nonetheless.
This cut paper style of illustration has been an inspiration to me in my own work. I love color, texture, pattern, and having these play with each other on the page in various shapes:
(a painting of mine from 2007 incorporating collage)
(illustration from My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey)
("Paper Leaves" 2006)
I love, love love collecting pattered papers, fabrics and photos! One of these days I'll actually find a way to keep them organized.
I crave bright, fun color as soon as snow hits the ground. And as soon as I've taken in the beauty of a sparkly white first snow (or as soon as dirty boots and car tires dirty it up), I start planning bright, happy spring projects with colorful botanicals and tropical flowers.
For now, I'm hoping for a white Christmas.
P.S. Incidentally, both Owl Moon and The Snowy Day mention making footsteps in the crisp white snow, which I love!