Beatrice Alemagna

I chose Beatrice Alemagna as my contemporary illustrator. She is a picture book maker originally from Bologna, now living in Paris. “Her picture books have been translated into many languages and have won numerous international awards.”(Irish Times) Examples of her work are shown below.

I have long admired Alemagna’s work, her visual storytelling is impeccable, the story, characters and settings are brought so vividly to life that you feel like you know them. The word I always use for her artwork is sumptuous, it makes me want to jump right in! There is so much to explore too. Her use of varied media and techniques make each illustration a feast for the eyes, I love trying to work out how she achieved each effect.

“Her graphic work combines a rare depth of visual literacy with a gentle poetic humanity and a fearless approach to experimenting with media and materials.” (Children’s Picture Books: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles.)

Having studied literature and graphics rather than drawing and illustration, Beatrice took to exploring materials and media to find her own way of doing things and this is evident in her work. “Yes, I felt that I suffered a lot through not studying the techniques of drawing, not knowing how to use acrylics or watercolours and so on. But in the end I realised that like to invent my own techniques.” (Beatrice Alemagna in Children’s Picture Books: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles.)

I did the mind map below to record the media and techniques I could see in her work and to start gathering ideas for my own experimentation.

Buildings, foliage and people feature a lot as subject matter so those were the areas I focused my exploration on. I tried out all techniques I could see in her work and started to invent my own.

In the picture on the left I experimented with acrylic and sponge printing. I particularly liked the effect I got by loading the paint brush with black and white and applying it with the tip of a flat brush without mixing the colours. Applying strokes in different directions also gave a good effect, like bricks in a building or a stone wall.

My pink and green explorations were experiments in layering of different media: Unmixed acrylic (as previously described), dry brush acrylic, pencil and pen over watercolour, watercolour pencil and pencil over acrylic, watercolour over dry brush acrylic and pastel, layers of pencil, pen on acrylic, pastel on gouche, acrylic ink on watercolour. I also tried printing with acrylic.

The sketchbook page on the right was an experiment into creating mixed media foliage. Pencil over Sharpie pens worked really well to give a really bold, colourful effect and pencil and fine liner pen over watercolour is good for creating texture. I tried to collage a tree using photos of plants but I don’t think this worked. I will need to explore collage more in the future as it does interest me.

I created the piece below to combine and practise the media and techniques I have explored.

I feel that my use of acrylic for the mountain stone has worked well, I think I have managed to convey a general shape and structure while maintaining a sense of freedom in the strokes. The trees are all mixed media and I used sandpaper for the wall. I think made this small amount of collage work!

Beatrice Alemagna’s books often feature children in which her artwork supports the text perfectly in creating a totally endearing character that we all want to love. I wanted to explore creating a drawing of a child. below show some initial sketches I made from photos but there was no story behind them, there was no endearing quality.

To achieve the endearing quality, I needed to create a story for the drawing and the easiest way of doing this was to use my daughter and an image of her that sticks in my mind from when she was 18 months old. I made two attempts, I think they both show an endearing little girl! The top was done in watercolour and pen for the spots while the bottom was watercolour, pencil and pen. I think the top looks more polished but the bottom looks more contemporary and much more in the style of Beatrice Alemagna.

There are similarities in the work of Beatrice Alemagna and Edward Bawden. Most obvious is their use of mixed media and collage. Another similarity though is the sense of place they portray through their artwork. To create the town in ‘The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Bitty’ Beatrice Alemagna “spent years taking photos of the most beautiful shop windows during my trips around the world.” (Beatrice Alemagna on blog.picturebookmakers.com)

In ‘A Lion in Paris’, Beatrice captures the city as she sees it, “ I wanted to show real places in Paris but reinterpreted in my own way, showing the city as it is, but also as I see it.”

I believe that they both use line effectively. As previously discussed, Edward Bawden was a master of it. I also think Beatrice is too. Although her perspective is not always technically accurate and her buildings often seem distorted, it works! The illustrations below show the similarity between them both in their use of line and creating a sense of place.

There is a stark difference in their use of colour and detail. Bawden’s colour palette was usually limited to a few colours while Beatrice uses the full spectrum. Her artwork is also much more detailed.