Friday, February 11, 2011

Big Hot Mess paintings

... and why I think they're a good thing!

So, as I'm nearing the end of my Olympig painting journey, I've realized something. I've been painting the book pretty much in sequence, and guess what- all of the hard pages are at the end!! I've had ample time to ponder this. I believe it's because Boomer's story starts out pretty simply- he thinks he just needs to practice hard & he will win a medal- and the paintings are pretty simple to reflect this. As he becomes more frustrated, confused and dramatic, the paintings also become more frustrated, confused and dramatic until they culminate in a Big Hot Mess.

It's kind of scary, and pretty challenging to me to paint these Big Hot Mess paintings. They're not neat and tidy. For much of the process they do just look like a BIG MESS and I get nervous when I remember they actually have to go into a book!

But you know what? When I finally finish these tricky paintings, the messy ones are the ones I like the best. They may not be as slick as some of the cleaner, simpler paintings, but I feel like going through that messy journey gave them some heart.

As you may recall, I also teach children's book illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and we're about halfway through the current course. This past week we talked about one of my favorite subjects: character. I feel like many picture books are written under the pretense that the characters must be "nice" or "good" because they're in a book for children. But really, the characters I love the most are the ones that we're allowed to see at their very worst. The authors and illustrators were not afraid to show us these characters at their messy, pathetic, rock-bottom WORST. Some examples:

Pigeon losing it. Not too classy, Pigeon.

Lilly's mean picture of Mr. Slinger. We've been told how very much Lilly loves Mr. Slinger, and so this picture, and the anger behind it, really does show Lilly at a low point.

Kitten's not necessarily mean or losing her temper here, but she is at a pretty pathetic low point. All she wanted was a bowl of milk- and now she is wet and sad and tired and hungry.

I love these characters- especially Pigeon and Lilly- precisely because we're allowed to follow them into their rabbit holes of bad behavior. They're not perfect because they're in a book for kids. Instead, they have messy, embarrassing, cringe-worthy pathetic breakdowns because they're supposed to be like REAL KIDS. What is WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, one of the most beloved books of all time, but a deep exploration of Max's bad behavior? And the fact that these characters emerge intact on the other side- and still loved by their parents- makes them all the more comforting and lovable to us.

My point? I guess it would be- Long live Big Hot Messes!


Wendy Wagner; said...

What a great point! I love Big Hot Mess moments in books, and I love big hot mess characters!

Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

Vicki said...

Come to think of it, I guess I love Big Hot Messes in older books, too! I just finished (listening to) STORY OF A GIRL, and she was kind of a BHM...

margaret said...

Hi! I LOVE the painting! Very intense. I like the BHM characters b/c it's so hard to be a kid, they show it's ok to mess up, then learn and move on. Happy V-Day!

Abigail Marble said...

I always think of both Frances and Ramona -- their messes made them all the more endearing.

I am in the midst of a PB Marathon (attempting to draft a picture book a day for the month of Feb) and this post really resonated. I realized that many of my characters are too good, and they'd be lots more interesting if they got a little messier. Thanks!

Vicki said...

Abigail, your comment really made my day! It's really satisfying to know my blog provides a bit of help sometimes, and is not just something I do for fun (which it is. Fun, I mean). Good luck in your marathon!

And Marge, it is always nice to get verification from a real live honest-to-goodness mom! :)

Manelle said...

I love the mess. I think it's fun to see paintings that aren't all spelled out. I love the colorful clouds, and I love you little pig characters. Fun stuff.

Vicki said...

Thanks, Manelle! Hope you're doing well!

Nina Crittenden said...

Looks outstanding, Vicki! I have missed a few of your posts- still chuckling over The Prince and the Lauper! Classic!!! You are creating such amazing, beautiful work for yet another wonderful book that I just can't wait to get my hands on! Way to go!!! :)