If you’ve never seen the fabulous work of Canadian children’s author and illustrator Elly Mackay, then you need to check out her website and Etsy store. We first “met” Elly when we gave her a shout out on Twitter and she responded:
@CozyClassics Thanks so much! Sure is fun to make these little worlds isn’t it! We are kindred-spirits in this, yes? 🙂
— Elly MacKay (@theaterclouds) September 10, 2014
Like us, Elly makes makes worlds in miniature. In her case, she makes scenes using paper, light and photography. She refers to her artistic process as paper theater, lightbox illustrations or illuminated papercraft. Here’s just one example of her amazing work:
When she mentioned in her tweet that we were “kindred spirits”, it struck a chord with us. So much so that we thought it would be a great to join forces with Elly somehow. What materialized was an idea to pitch a panel discussion on the book conference circuit, including the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco.
In addition to Elly, we asked Terry Border to join the panel. Again, if you haven’t seen his work, you need to check out his website. He’s best known for his Bent Objects projects, where he added wire (usually as arms and legs) to ordinary objects to help pose them as living characters, usually telling a story, and then photographing them. The results range from whimsical to hilarious. Here’s a sample:
And if you love children’s classics and want a good laugh, then you need to see Terry’s series My many tries at my first children’s book cover.
Since Jack is in England now, he’s not part of the pitch, but here’s the draft session description the rest of us have come up:
BUILDING AN ILLUSTRATION
“Crafty” illustration techniques and the push-back against computer-generated images in children’s picture books
Every librarian knows that children’s picture books are waging a fierce battle with “screens”—televisions, computers and mobile devices—for children’s attention. But even when children have a printed book in their hands, digital incursions are everywhere, from flat, lifeless and obviously computer-generated art to more painterly images that are nevertheless digitally rendered or manipulated. In response, there appears to be a growing appetite among book-buyers for images that are not “electronically made.”
Do you have a booklist ready if a parent asks, “Can you show me some books that don’t have computer generated illustrations?”
In this panel discussion, three prominent “maker” illustrators discuss how children’s artists are looking to push beyond the boundaries of digital rendering—and even beyond traditional techniques such as drawing and painting—to bring craft into their artistic processes to create images that are more tactile, immediate, and authentic.
The current cultural resurgence of do-it-yourself handcraft—variously dubbed “makerism,” “craftivism” or “fabriculture”—is beginning to impact the world of children’s picture book illustration. This cultural resurgence informs the work of Elly Mackay, Holman Wang and Terry Border, who each combine a different handcraft with photography to create striking and unique images that collectively constitute a whole new idiom of illustration.
Elly MacKay creates evocative, luminescent worlds through miniature dioramas that she calls “paper theatre”. Holman Wang painstakingly illustrates his books with hand-made, needle-felted figures placed in indoor sets or outdoors on location. Terry Border is best known for adding wire (usually as arms and legs) to ordinary objects to hilariously bring them to life as human-like characters.
Come hear Elly, Holman and Terry reveal the tricks of the trade behind their art, discuss the importance of “making”, and examine the future of illustrating for children.
We don’t know if the ALA will accept. But whatever comes of our panel discussion proposal, it’s nice to know that there are other non-traditional artists out there who, like us, are pushing the boundaries of children’s illustration.