What better way than to begin a blog about illustration than by sharing with you the books that made it into my hand luggage after last weeks Bologna Children's Book Fair. This is the world's biggest exhibition of children's publishing - five buildings the size of aircraft hangars full of books, from the smallest art house publishers to giants like Disney. Walking from one end of the fair to the other takes a good half hour, and that's without getting lost, which is possible only if you have a map, and without stopping, which isn't possible at all.
Thankfully budget and luggage restrictions meant that I set a sensible limit of just 3 on the number of books I could take home. It was really difficult to choose and the books I ended up with are each very different. Here they are, in no particular order:
Waterlife by Rambharos Jha, Tara Books
This one was definitely my most extravagant purchase of the fair. At £30, it's not cheap, but the price starts to look more reasonable when you realise that this book is totally handmade: all silkscreen printed on to beautiful thick handmade paper by local artisans in Chennai, India. You can pay a lot more than £30 for just one original screen print, and this book has 12!
The colours and design are incredibly rich, the ink is vibrant and opaque, and there is lots of information in the back about traditional Mithila art, which inspired the folk art feel of this book. Each image has a minimal block of text with it, the artists own musings on the animals and the process of making the art. It is a gentle read and a beautiful book to keep going back to. A friend suggested I needed two copies - one to keep as a book, and one to take apart so I could frame the prints and put them on the wall!
Attendere Il Nulla (The Wait for Nothing) by Denis Riva, Blu Gallery
This is a strange concept book exploring the connection between humans and nature. it begins minimally, with quiet landscapes that could be straight from a sketchbook. As you go through the 120 pages, strange forms begin to emerge: rocks become people, birds have human faces, and tangled woodlands spread. It is often disturbing - wolves rip into flesh, a body is seen underground with trees growing from it - but it's also very compelling. The connection between humans and the wild is the stuff of fairy tales, often forgotten in today's hectic, disconnected society, but always there at the most primal level.
The ink paintings, all in natural browns and greys, are loose and as wild as their subject matter. Certainly not a children's book - and in fact I found it in one of the many wonderful bookshops in Bologna, not at the children's book fair - but a fascinating collection nonetheless.
Storia di Ba, by Annamaria Gozzi and Viola Niccolai, Topipittori
This book is all in Italian, and there is no English translation, so I can't read a word of it. The story has something to do with a tortoise, but that's as far as I can get. The illustrations however are beautiful - the colours are really vibrant and luminous, and the paint is applied in a relaxed way with lots of loose brush marks, scratching and layering. The compositions on the page are stunning and the use of white space is often as important as the coloured areas.
I wonder if the illustrator went and did any location drawing, because the book is full of the atmosphere of it's rural African setting - the patterned fabrics the women wear, the animals, and the warm, rich colours. It's how I wish my sketchbooks looked, which is why I wanted to buy the book!
With so many inspiring books to choose from, there were at least 20 others that I could have brought home that I loved just as much as these, but hopefully this gives you a bit of a flavour of just how diverse the wonderful world of Bologna's illustrated books is!