When I’m not painting, snacking, watching reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm, or having the time of my life at Illustoria magazine, I spend my days surrounded by children’s books. Specifically, at Mr. Mopps’ Children’s Books, one of the finest bookstore establishments in the Bay Area (if not America, the World, Universe, etc). As an artist and lover of beautiful things, my favorite picture books often tend to be the ones with jaw dropping-ly cool illustrations (that is unless it’s The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak). So it’s with great joy that I share my current illustrator favorites with you. I’ve also included some really awesome up-and-coming artists who haven’t published a children’s book yet, but I really hope they one day do. I hope this list inspires you to visit your local bookstore and support these stellar artists.
1. Phoebe Wahl
Phoebe Wahl is my all time favorite illustrator at the moment. Working in various mix media from collage to watercolor and color pencil, all of Wahl’s creation are lush, whimsical, and filled with a love nature. The artist grew up in Washington and graduated from RISD in 2013 before plunging into the illustrator world. Her very first children’s book, Sonya’s Chicken’s is so wonderful-- I recommend it to everyone who comes into Mr.Mopps’. It tells the story of a young girl named Sonya who takes enormous pride in caring for her chickens. When one of her hens is killed by a neighborhood fox, Sonya learns an important lesson about the cycle of life and how to cope with loss. With gorgeously textured collage materials, rich colors, and folk inspired images, Sonya’s Chickens is a truly mesmerizing, heart warming tale you’ll want to reread again and again. It’s no wonder this book was the recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats award for new illustrators! I’m greatly anticipating Wahl’s next children’s book and whatever spectacular creation she spins up next. You can check out her work at http://www.phoebewahl.com/
2. Isabelle Arsenault
Isabelle Arsenault is a Canadian illustrator who has worked on over ten children’s books, each more wonderful than the next. Most recently, she illustrated Cloth Lullaby a tale of the life of world famous contemporary artist Louise Bourgeois, written by talented local author Amy Novesky. What I find stunning about Arsenault’s work is how she seamlessly integrates watercolor and pencil line work to create immersive, often extremely pattern-filled scenes.
Though her style has a sense of innocence and child-like wonder to it, Arsenault isn’t afraid of depicting a darker side. In her graphic novel Jane, the Fox, and Me Arsenault dramatic compositions and devilish character portrayal illustrate the anxiety and angst that we all go through as early teens. More of her work can be found at http://www.isabellearsenault.com/
3. Esme Shapiro
Esme Shapiro’s work is delightful, fresh, and filled with curiosity. Similarly to Phoebe Wahl, Shapiro is a RISD grad who just published her first children’s book, Ooko. In this amusing tale, a fox named Ooko who has it all, except for a very best friend. So it goes off an adventure to find a companion but instead gets mistaken as an old lady’s dog. Filled with whimsy, flora, and fauna, Ooka is an easy favorite. Shapiro has many many more imaginative, Maria Kalman-esque pieces on her website http://esmeshapiro.com/
4. Joohee Yoon
Joohee Yoon is a printmaker whose work never fails to amuse and inspire me. She has illustrated two children’s books, The Tiger Who Would Be King and Beastly Verse, as well as House Plant an art book about plants that outgrow their owners. You might also recognize her work as being a frequent feature in the New Yorker and New York Times. With wonderful overlapping colors and wonderful oversized cartoon characters, Yoon’s work overflows with vivacity and humor. If you’re as big of a fan as screen printing as I am, (or even if you’re not!) her illustrations will tickle you in all the right places. You can check out more of her striking work on her website http://jooheeyoon.com/index.html
5. Sally Nixon
Sally Nixon, an illustrator working from Little Rock, Arkansas is one of the raddest artists around. Though she hasn’t come out with any children’s books yet (I hope she will soon!), she’s an honorable mention on this list because she’s without a doubt my creator crush. Nixon lovingly depicts the mundane moments in an average girl’s life, like eating late night snacks of chocolate cake, brushing your teeth in the shower, scrolling through instagram, or simply sitting on the toilet. By giving these often overlooked moments extra attention with delicate marker coloring and detailed penmanship, Nixon makes the everyday special. Her illustrations have a feeling of voyeurism, as if for spectators to see what women do when no one’s watching. At the same time, the contemplative boredom Nixon depicts makes her characters so relatable and well loved. Visit her website at http://sally-nixon.squarespace.com/.