Mr. Tiger Gets Styled

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If you’re familiar with my children’s books you’ve probably noticed that my art style changes from book to book. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1) I get bored, and so I try new things to keep it interesting.

2) I let my illustrations to do most of my storytelling. But I think certain art styles are better suited to tell certain kinds of stories. So I change my art style to better tell each particular story.

With that said I want to talk about my inspiration for my newest picture book. The initial idea for my new book was a simple thought experiment: I wanted to see what would happen when an anthropomorphic animal character (that is, an animal character who walks and talks and lives very much like a human) got in touch with his true animal nature and became wild.

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From The Story Of Babar

I began by studying how other authors and artists handled anthropomorphism. I read countless children’s books that involved animal characters, books like Watership Down, Animal Farm and The Story of Babar. I also studied animated films for ideas. I grew up loving classic Disney films like The Jungle Book, Robin Hood and Fantasia, films that did interesting things with anthropomorphism, and so I returned to those films in my search for inspiration. And I pored over books like The Illusion of Life, which discusses the entire Disney animation process, from initial ideas through development, production, and even post-production.

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Art by Eyvind Earle, for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

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Art by Mary Blair, for Disney’s Peter Pan

Disney  artists like Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair were master illustrators. Their jobs were to design the look and feel of characters and of scenes and of entire animated films. Their modernist style led me to other mid-century illustrators such as Charley Harper, Roger Duvoisin, Leonard Weisgard, and the team of Alice and Martin Provensen (who both happened to have backgrounds in animation).

Scene from Disney's Paul Bunyan, styled by Eyvind Earle and Walt Peregoy

Scene from Disney’s Paul Bunyan, styled by Eyvind Earle and Walt Peregoy

Peter Pan Mermaids - Mary Blair

Art by Mary Blair, for Disney’s Peter Pan

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Art by Eyvind Earle, for Disney’s The Truth About Mother Goose

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Art by Charley Harper

The Clean Pig

From The Clean Pig, by Leonard Weisgard

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From The Animal Fair, by Alice and Martin Provensen

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From The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen

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From Veronica by Roger Duvoisin

I studied all of those various artists and storytellers, and many others, as I began work on my picture book.  I took notes on how my favorite authors handled animal characters, story arcs, and the relationships between words and pictures. I covered the walls of my studio with copies of my favorite illustrations from those artists, I literally surrounded myself with my favorite art, and I began to notice patterns in my taste. I found that I liked how these artists used layers of line and texture over big bold shapes of solid color. I liked how their art was high contrast and how they often used simple, unified color palettes. I might like how one artist handled plants, and how another handled texture, and how another used white space, and I tried to come up with unique ways of combining those different elements in my own art.

Slowly-but-surely my story began coming together, and slowly-but-surely my art style evolved into something new and exciting for me…a style that I thought was particularly appropriate for the story I was trying to tell.

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A page from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

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A page from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

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A page from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

All artists have outside influences (whether they realize it, or not). I’ve chosen to actively pursue influences, rather than passively wait to be influenced. Sometimes I discover new directions for my art by experimenting in my sketchbook, other times I discover new directions by analyzing how I feel about the work of other artists. In my new book, I think you’ll see hints of Eyvind Earl, Mary Blair, the Provensens, Charley Harper and Leonard Weisgard. You might even hear whispers of The Story of Babar, Frog and Toad, or Animal Farm. But my hope is that I’ve combined all of those different inspirations in my own unique way, to tell a story called Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.

MrT-frontcover

Tags: Inspiration, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild


19 Responses to “Mr. Tiger Gets Styled”

  1. Debbie says:

    Very interesting Peter! I have read some of your books, but not the new one yet. However, I am familiar with it, because I heard you talk about it at the SCBWI conference in May.

  2. Cathy Bonnell says:

    I thought the art In Mr. Tiger reminded me of Little Golden Books specifically Leonard Weisgard. So interesting to know what inspired you!

  3. Really illuminating…and fascinating. I love reading about artists’processes. Thanks for the window into yours!

  4. Very interesting to see such a different approach aesthetically to each book. I am encouraged to hear that once established in your career publishers are willing to see a breadth of style from one illustrator. That’s not a message commonly touted. You are an inspiration yourself!

  5. Mike R Baker says:

    Fantastic! Love your influences.

  6. Your process is fascinating. Especially the part where you surround yourself with art that you love.Your various styles have common threads. I would know that it’s your work, although, yes, at the same time your books are different from one another. (Your writing style and topic helps!)

    Have you seen the largest ever collection of Eyvind Earle’s paintings at Gallery 21 in Carmel CA? EE switched careers at one point and became a Fine Artist of gorgeous, mystical, brooding pieces.

    On another note, over Labor Day weekend I read aloud CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS, to my family including my 90 yr old father. His eyes grew wide and he said, “I REALLY like his style.” My father is not easily impressed. He attended NY Arts Students League and Parsons College in the 50’s. He was the fashion illustrator for Bergdorf Goodman and other stores at that time. Later he became a award winning Fine Artist with shows in NYC. He was looking at your artwork with a unique eye — form, color, symmetry. So I thought you might like to hear that perspective. As he was leaving he said, “I like that guy.” You signed some books for me in Boulder, and I wished I had thought to have you sign one for my dad. I see that I can order through Word for a personalization. And I will do that!
    Best of everything!

    • Peter Brown says:

      Thanks Carmela! So glad your dad enjoyed CMTP! And yes, I’m well aware of Eyvind Earle’s post-disney fine art career. I have a huge coffee table book of his landscape/barn-scape paintings. Really interesting stuff.

  7. Love Mr. Tiger! And I love that you included Veronica in your illustration samples.

  8. Louann Brown says:

    I keep Pinterest boards as inspiration for illustration projects. Love Love finding new ideas to explore. Thank you for sharing your inspirations.

  9. I love your work, really I do. I bought the french version of children… “les enfants sont épouvantables animaux de compagnie” and we laugh a lot at home. My child is still very young to understand it (he’s 2) but I’m saving it for later ;)
    I also love the 60’s style in children illustration books, like the ones you mentioned above. Big fan of them too. I will add some things of Alain Grée, and other less know that we can find in thrift stores with patience… Any tips for some kind of begginers on this? I would love to work as all those illustrators from the past, but finding my own style has been already difficult… Congrats for your work.

  10. gail says:

    Love this post Peter. Like I said before I still recognize these guys as being yours. I think as a writer/illustrator you need to look at each book and find the style suited best for it. (That’s why art directors use different illustrators for different books by the same author, right?)

    I love looking at other artists work for inspiration too. Sometimes that’s how you “find” your style.

    Thanks again for the post. I read a few others this week that, along with yours, inspired me to post on my blog that has been a bit neglected.

    You can find it here.
    http://gailmakiwilson.blogspot.com/2013/10/friday-studio-links-blogging.html

  11. WriterSideUp says:

    Peter, thank you for posting this link in SharpSchu last night! I honestly would’ve sworn it was Jon whose work you were influenced by for “Mr.Tiger,” but after seeing all this, it’s obviously not! lol

    Seriously, though, through your videos I’ve developed that much more appreciation for your work ethic. You put so much effort into making it the best it can be and it shows :)

    And I know publishing houses are all stuck on illustrators’ work being distinctive, so seeing that you can vary your style according to what you believe the book calls for is really a breath of fresh air :) Your distinction is that your work is always high quality and your effort of achieving the optimal aesthetic. Love it! :)

    I have to add, though, that the works you showed here of Earle and Blair don’t look at all like the art that made the classic Disney films I’m familiar with, so that confuses me a bit :)

    Anyway, thank you for all the work you do that I (we) enjoy and admire SO much!
    Donna

  12. Tina Chan says:

    My son Cassius, who is in the third grade discovered Creepy Carrots at his school’s Scholastic bookfair, and was he ever wowed by your artwork! He’s got a great eye! We really look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

  13. Kristie says:

    Hi Peter,
    I am so glad you were in Savannah for the Children’s book festival. I am a fan. I had you sign some books as Christmas presents for some of the kids in my family. I know they will love reading your stories and become big fans as well. I thought there was some Mary Blair-esque foliage in your new book.
    Keep up the great work!!!

    Kristie

  14. Julia says:

    Hi Peter, I just wanted to say that we recently borrowed Chowder fronm the public library and when its due date for return came up, my son insisted we renew our loan as he loves it so much. My son is 7 and has Autism and I can see so much of him and his social experiences in it so much and I think he can see it too – hence his love of the book. My son is exremely and adorably quirky, just like Chowder; he tries so hard to fit in and make friends, but, like Chowder, doesn’t quite click with his peers as he would be the dog reconstructing dinosur skeletons with fantastic skill and flair while his peers suck on old chicken leg bones (and isn’t that the way Mrs Wubbington would look at it..surely?!!; and he is forever inventing plans which he hopes and believes will result in boys at school just desperatly wanting to be his friend…especially if they too are a little bit different, just like him (and Chowder!). I wondered whether this book was written with kids on the Autism Spectrum in mind or whether it is just a lovely coincidence that these parralells exist? Chowder has been a great way for my son to speak with me and his dad about how hard it is for him to make friends and what it means to be different. After we had read the book for the 1 billionth time, i said to my son..”Chowder reminds me of the quirkiest person I know in the world” and he asked who that was and when i told him it was himself, there was a coy and proud smile on his face…and a smile from my son, no matter his mood, doesn’t happen easily. I plan on speaking with my son’s school about using Chowder as a way to promote discussion with kids about diversity and quirks and making friends and I will be talking about it on the many Autism forums and websites I visit. I wanted to let you know what a lovely, gentle, funny book it has been for me and my son and his younger sibling…we just love it.

    • Peter Brown says:

      Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for sharing this with me, Julia. I can’t tell you how much your comment means to me.

      Chowder was really intended for anyone who has ever felt different, or left out, at one point or another…which is everyone…some more than others. However, I talk extensively with my educator friends about kids on the Autism spectrum, and how their special skills and habits can actually be a huge advantage, if only we can convince the KIDS of that before they feel too isolated. If my books are a part of that process, in any way, then I can die a happy man.

      Anyway, I’m absolutely thrilled that Chowder resonates with you and your son.

  15. Regina Cross says:

    Peter, I love your initial comment about getting bored with “one style” of illustration. I have several as well and keep hearing the stifling mantra, “you must have one style before publishers will pick you up.” I bought Mr. Tiger for my grandson and he loves it as much as I do. Thanks for the encouragement.

  16. Wendy Russo says:

    My Grade 1/2 went wild for Mr. Tiger. It inspired an art project of its own, among other things including a spontaneous ‘dance party’ aka, class gone wild, mid morning. Watching your video about the artistic influences that shaped and inspired the book was a powerful piece. Thank you for inspiring young readers and budding artists everywhere. Check out the beautiful Mr. Tiger Goes Wild artwork my class created at our blog!

    http://mrswrusso.blogspot.ca/2014/03/mr-tiger-goes-wild.html

  17. Mike says:

    Hi Peter,

    My son and I absolutely adored Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!

    I’ve reviewed in on my #kidlit blog, http://bibliopapa.blogspot.com/2014/05/mr-tiger-goes-wild.html

    Check it out!

    Thanks for the great books!
    Mike

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