Illustrating Aesop’s Fables For Today’s Children.

Can Aesop’s fables be made more relevant to a child in 2013 through the illustrations?  This is what Laura Prior, specializing in narrative illustration, is investigating for her final year dissertation at Birmingham City University in the UK.  After seeing my illustrations in Aesop’s Fables, she requested an interview with me.  This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the subject of relevance in illustration.

 

Illustrating Aesop's Fables For Today's Children. calder

Alexander Calder. A City Mouse and a Country Mouse.

 

Did you try to modernise the stories with your illustrations? 

When I was ten years old, my mother gave me a copy of Fables of Aesop According to Sir Roger L’Estrange With Fifty Drawings by Alexander Calder.  Calder’s simplified, squiggly black line drawings made an impact on me.  They were so different from the more elaborate and traditional illustrations I associated with Aesop’s fables. When Tradewind Books asked me to illustrate Aesop’s Fables, I wanted to find a new approach to illustrating the stories.  I was very aware that Aesop’s fables have been illustrated umpteen times and was determined to give the pictures a fresh look, just as Calder had done.

 

11_the_axe_and_the_trees

Talleen Hacikyan. The Axe and the Trees.

 

If so, how did you try to do this? 
Tradewind Books art director, Carol Frank, had a specific look that she wanted for the book.  She had seen the cover of Tork Angegh,  the previous book I had illustrated, and she wanted me to work in a similar style.  I worked with acrylic paint on a black illustration board.  Besides detailed brushwork, I incorporated a lot of hand printed textures using all kinds of objects, such as leaves, cabbage, pine needles, engraved Styrofoam  and woodblocks made for textile printing.  The fact that I am a printmaker, goes a long way to explaining why I gravitate to this method that produces unique textures.

 Do you think the type of colours used make it more relevant or is it more to do with the content of the illustration?

Working over the black background gives the illustrations a mysterious atmosphere and adds a new twist.  I haven’t seen Aesop’s fables illustrated this way before.  As for content, Carol suggested that I do a literal interpretation of the stories, which brings me to Michael Rosen’s writing.  The Midwest Book Review writes, « Each tale and moral is retold in a refreshing vernacular that allows the good old bones of the tale to shine directly through. »  I appreciated this very quality when I read from the book recently at a literary festival. I believe that the synergy between the writing and illustrations is what makes our book relevant to today’s reader, child or adult.
bull1

Talleen Hacikyan. Frog and Bull.

 

Do you think children’s preferences in illustration have changed over time? 
I think children are attracted to characters, whether human or animal, that draw an emotional response from them.  They like pictures that stimulate their imagination and transport them into the fantasy world of the story.  I don’t think that has changed.  What has evolved  is graphic style.  The line between illustration and fine art is much more flexible today.  Despite exposure to contemporary illustration in different media, I would like to think that a child today could admire and respond to a classic illustration, from let’s say  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, even after having seen Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.
oxe

Alexander Calder. A Frog and an Oxe.

 

Is there such a thing as a timeless illustration in your opinion or will everything become dated at some point?
An illustration will always remain great, even if  it was made many years ago.  If an illustration has the capacity to capture the heart, eyes and mind of the reader and enhances the story by adding another dimension to it then it is timeless. Alexander Calder illustrated Aesop’s fables in 1931.  When I look at those illustrations today, I am as fascinated as I was as a child.  Today, as an artist, I also appreciate the pictures from a new perspective.  With a few continuous and fluid lines, Calder captures the personalities of his characters. These pictures, although devoid of the many technical devices of contemporary illustration, are pure pleasure, 82 years after their creation.
Talleen Hacikyan
Thank you Laura Prior.

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