Illustrator Comparison: Leo Lionni and Eric Carle
considering which illustrators of children’s books are most easily identifiable
and most beloved by children, their families and their teachers, two
immediately come to mind: Leo Lionni and Eric Carle. Both are author/illustrators
of numerous children’s books as well as artists in their own right. Leo, born in 1910, was raised in
Leo Lionni spent his childhood
Eric Carle moved from
Leo Lionni used a variety of art materials in his work. He would usually draw pictures as he would tell stories to his grandchildren, however on that long train ride he had no drawing materials. Instead, he tore out circles of color from a magazine to help tell his story of little blue and little yellow using lots of splotches of color. This experience led him to create his first book for children.
Lionni became the first children’s author/illustrator to use collage as the main medium for his illustrations. Collage is defined as “a work of visual art made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole. Collage can include any material, such as newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of colored or hand-made papers, photographs, and other material which are glued to a solid support or canvas” (www.picassomio.com, 2007). He used a variety of collage techniques: straight collage, collage and oil stick, which is oil paint that can be used as a crayon for drawing, collage and mixed media, or colored pencil and oil stick. One constant in his work was his use of white space which allowed his artwork to be prominent on the page. His illustrations and his consistent use of the font called Century Schoolbook embody a fresh, clean graphic look which in many ways is easier for young children to read and understand. Reviewers such as Booklist and School Library Journal have said that Lionni’s illustrations are “bold, sumptuous collages” that include “playful patches of color” and that his “beautifully simple [and] “boldly graphic art [is] perfect to share with very young children” (www.randomhouse.com, 2007). Book World said that “the translucent color of the pictures and the simplicity of the text make a perfect combination” (www.randomhouse.com, 2007).
Eric Carle is also known for his use of collage in his illustrations. He has been said to have credited his use of collage to the works of artists like Picasso, Matisse and Leo Lionni. In Carle’s words, he “begins with plain tissue paper and paint[s] it with different colors, using acrylics” (www.eric-carle.com, 2007). He uses a variety of brushes...sometimes wide and sometimes narrow. His strokes might be straight or wavy. He might splash or splatter the paint. He has been known to use his fingers to paint as well. In some of his illustrations he has used carpet pieces, sponges or burlap as paint stamps to create different textures on the tissue paper. The dried pieces of tissue paper are stored in color-coded drawers so that when he needs a particular color it is easily found. He cuts or tears the shapes he needs from this homemade paper. When explaining how he created the caterpillar in his beloved book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he says “I cut out a circle for the head from a red tissue paper and many ovals for the body from green tissue papers; and then I paste them with wallpaper glue onto an illustration board to make the picture” (www.eric-carle.com, 2007). According to Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Newsletter (1997) “this technique gives a vibrant, free feeling to his illustrations” (www.carolhurst.com, 2007).
In comparison, Leo Lionni and Eric Carle have many similar attributes in their illustrations. Both incorporating the collage technique, their works are distinctive and enjoyable to the reader’s eye. Not only do the illustrations themselves make these author/illustrators easily identifiable, but the themes and characters found in their books are also very distinctive.
Both authors write and illustrate stories that speak to children’s interests as well as potential challenges that they may encounter in the world. Relevant themes such as natural beauty, growing and changing, learning new skills, and friendship can be found in the fables told by both of these illustrators. Helping children learn something about their world is also a feature found in both Lionni’s and Carle’s works.
One interesting similarity between these two author/illustrators is the fact that the majority of their books are based on creatures found in nature. Lionni’s most famous books are about mice, frogs and fish. Many of Eric Carle’s characters are insects and mammals. The themes of their stories are usually drawn from their knowledge and love of nature. According to Carle’s official website, “his books always offer the child the opportunity to learn something about the world around them. It is his concern for children, for their feelings and their inquisitiveness, for their creativity and their intellectual growth that, in addition to his beautiful artwork, makes the reading of his books such a stimulating and lasting experience” (www.eric-carle.com, 2007). Janet Schulman, Editor-at-large of Random House Children’s Books states,
Among Leo's many gifts was his ability to understand how a child's mind works. He knew that children respond to and identify with stories about animals. And so the stories that he created are simple fables, using animals to show a human attribute or value. The tales do not hammer home a moral--they are primarily entertaining--but most children come away from them with a new understanding of sharing, cooperating, individuality, peace, diplomacy, and other underlying pinnings of the tales (www.randomhouse.com, 2007).
One difference in the illustrations of Leo Lionni and Eric Carle is found in their use of color. Carle uses bright, vibrant colors in his books and many of his animals are not their natural colors. He creates green foxes, purple cats, blue horses and pink elephants. In his book, Mister Seahorse, the seahorse and all its babies are created with swirls and patches of bright blues, greens, pinks, purples and yellows. The main character in A House for Hermit Crab, is not its natural brown color but bright red with a shell that looks like it has been sponge painted with green, purple and orange. In several of his stories a bright yellow and orange sunshine can be found with a face smiling out at the reader.
Lionni uses more earth tone colors in his illustrations that are closer to the actual colors of the objects found in nature. In his book, Inch by Inch, he uses realistic shades of brown and burnt orange in his collage of a robin. The tree branches are shades of brown with dark green leaves. The inchworm in the story is a muted green that resembles the color of the leaves. The bright colors in this book are found in the hummingbird and the toucan who the inchworm meets along his way. One of the most consistent characters to be found in Lionni’s books are mice, such as the star character in his book, Frederick and Alexander in the Caldecott Honor Book, Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse. The mice in his books are always shades of gray or tan. Although both of these author/illustrators are creators of children’s books about animals, birds, insects and other creatures found in nature, Lionni’s colors are more realistic and Carle’s are more imaginative and unusual.
One other difference in the books created by these illustrators can be found in the extra dimensions that Carle adds to some of his illustrations such as twinkling lights in The Very Lonely Firefly, chirping crickets in The Very Quiet Cricket and the sandpaper textured spider web found in The Very Busy Spider. He also includes pages of acetate overlays between the pages of Mister Seahorse and Dream Snow. Children are intrigued by what’s hiding under the sea behind the seaweed or the coral reef as well as what animal is covered up by the piles of snow in the farmer’s snowy dream. These extra elements add a touch of excitement to Carle’s books that can quickly attract children to want to read these books with their families, their teachers and their friends.
Leo Lionni and Eric Carle are both well-known, well-loved, award-winning children’s author/ illustrators who have brought enchanting stories and illustrations to the world of children’s literature. The numerous books that have been written by these men, with their similarities and differences, definitely have one thing in common. Children love to read them.
References and Resources about the author/illustrators
Art Information: Collage