Illustrator Spotlight: Igor Oleynikov, Russia

Continuing the series from last week where I showcased illustrations by Italian artist Fabian Negrin, this week I discuss the creative work of Igor Oleynikov, a Russian illustrator whose style I would describe as “cozily impressionistic.” Consider the following image from his book “The Bremen Town Musicians,” with its receding skyline of frosted evergreens:

"The Bremem Town Musicians"
“The Bremem Town Musicians”

Oleynikov often illustrates stories featuring animals as the main characters, a common theme in many children’s books. Under Oleynikov’s skillful hand, even the most frightening of beasts become snuggly and endearing.

from "The Book of Lullabies"
from “The Book of Lullabies”

Oleynikov’s style is, undoubtedly, influenced by his childhood in Russia. He began illustrating books for children after working as an art director at the Soyuzmultfilm studio, yet never received any formal artistic training. This obviously didn’t impede his success–he has illustrated books for publishers in Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States.Nightengale, cover

This explains why I was initially baffled by this bookcover, in a language I couldn’t even identify. Turns out it is a version of H.C. Andersen’s Danish fairytale “The Nightingale,” published in Taiwan, with illustrations by a Russian artist. If that isn’t representative of how great stories resonate with people across the world in all different cultures and societies, I don’t know what is.

Admittedly, Oleynikov’s illustrations fall closer to the “traditional” side when it comes to children’s books. As I’ve said before, his illustrations are intimate and restful–I feel cozy and safe just looking at them, and these are feelings many adults consider suitable and hope to evoke when selecting books for children. That doesn’t mean, however, that Oleynikov’s illustrations aren’t beautiful and worth a closer look. For one thing, he utilizes negative space & color palettes wonderfully. I wonder if he was subliminally influenced by the open landscape in Russia?

"The Bremem Town Musicians," img. 2
“The Bremem Town Musicians,” img. 2

And for last, I have saved my favorite illustration by Oleynikov from his version of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Never have I encountered such an imaginative take on the classic tale. Here is Jack, leading the chicken that lays the golden eggs away from the giants’ castle in the sky…

"Jack and the Beanstalk," published by Montessori in Korea.
“Jack and the Beanstalk,” published by Montessori in Korea.

Oleynikov is a well-loved illustrator in Russia, and rightly so, for everything he draws is like a lullaby.

Illustrator Spotlight: Fabian Negrin, Italy

A couple of weeks ago the library where I work got a massive shipment of probably 300 books that have been nominated for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the most prestigious international recognition given to an author and illustrator of children’s books.

HCA books

I’ve spent far too much time sifting through the books, taking photos, and reading the biographical packets for each author/illutrator. Since there are so many fabulous artists, I thought I would share images from some of my favorites. First up is Italian illustrator Fabian Negrin.

In bocca al lupo, coverBorn in Argentina, educated in Mexico, but a citizen of Italy, Negrin’s illustrations reflect a wide range of influences. The book cover & image above are from his book In bocca al lupo, literally, “In the Wolf’s Mouth.” The meaning of this phrase is quite tricky, and deserves a closer look. A friend of mine who lives in Italy asked her professor about it, and related the following to me:

Image from In bocca al lupo
from “In bocca al lupo”

In boca all’lupo comes from Latin/Roman culture and there the wolf was a very positive animal. Romolus and Remus, the founding fathers of Rome, were raised by a wolf, the lupa romana. The female wolf saved them when they were abandoned in the woods and raised them as her own. So ‘being in the wolf’s mouth’ is the safest place a Roman could think of because to them it meant the protection of a fierce mother. Only in the Middle Ages did the wolf become something to be feared.

This explanation helps to make sense of the book, which according to the dossier on Negrin, is a warped version of “Little Red Riding Hood” and tells the story from the wolf’s rarely-seen perspective. In Negrin’s version, the wolf is not evil, but rather a tragic figure doomed to suffer from unrequited love. The illustrations in this book, as in the one directly below, are strangely dream-like, slightly unfocused, but with a nightmarish edge. Principessa pel di topo, image

Next is Principessa pel di topo [above], a collection of stories by the Brothers Grimm. The illustrations are, again, dark and unusual—more in keeping, I think, with the tone and style of the original tales. The illustration I have chosen to feature is from the short story “The Blacksmith and the Devil.” In Negrin’s vision, the blacksmith is clearly grappling with otherworldly forces that have lodged themselves in a tree. This is one of those instances in which I wish I could read Italian—not only to get the context of the story, but also to read the foreword by Jack Zipes. Zipes is a noted theorist & historian in the field of children’s literature whose ideas I cited heavily in my senior thesis.

Last, but certainly not least, is Mille Giorni e una notte (“One Thousand Days and one night”) which Negrin both wrote and illustrated. My Italian friend remarked that it reminded her of Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo del Toro, and I certainly agree! It’s also faintly reminiscent of Aztec art, which Negrin probably studied as an art student in Mexico, with its intricate, geometric precision. According to a review by Walter Fochesato, Mille Giorni recounts the birth of the sun—this also helps to explain the mythological elements of Negrin’s illustrations. Mille Giorni, image reduced I hope you enjoyed this post! I’m planning to feature an illustrator each week as part of a new mini-series, starting with Igor Oleynikov from Russia next Wednesday. If there are specific illustrators whose work you’d like me to discuss, the full list can be found here. A full list of all of the nominated authors can also be found here. I can only read in English and Spanish, but many of the authors submitted English translations of their books so it is possible, for example, for me to read Joel Rufino de los Santos‘ books.