Chris Van Allsburg What draws me to Van Allsburg? Excellence in both illustration and storytelling. That’s rare to do both. And has a large body of work. His illustrations keep my eyes moving, they are aesthetic and pleasing spaces that I can relate and enter into, they elute emotion. The texture of the art itself, very realistic with the element of wonder. Enigmatic, takes ordinary objects and puts them into mysterious, unexpected places. Gives the figures life, makes me think about the object magically, and lets me sink my teeth into it. His cropping style lets me ponder my imagination richly. | |
Chris Van Allsburg (born June 18, 1949) is an American author and illustrator of children’s books. Van Allsburg is a true luminary in the children’s book world. He twice won the Caldecott Medal, for Jumanji (1982) and The Polar Express (1985), both of which he wrote and illustrated, and both of which were later adapted into successful motion pictures. He received the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1980 for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. Life and education Van Allsburg was born in East Grand Rapids, Michigan where he lived in an old farmhouse. His family then moved to a new house at the edge of Grand Rapids when Chris was three years old.
His new house was located close enough to his elementary school that he could walk there for class. His family later moved again to East Grand Rapids. Van Allsburg attended the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan, which at that time included the art school. He majored in sculpture, learning bronze casting, woodcarving, resin molding, and other techniques. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1972 and continued his education at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), graduating with a master’s degree in sculpture in 1975. After graduation, Van Allsburg set up a sculpture studio.
Chris Van Allsburg lives in Providence, Rhode Island with Lisa Van Allsburg, his wife of 30 years. They have two daughters, Sophia and Anna. Van Allsburg converted to Judaism, his spouse’s faith. Career While Van Allsburg focused on sculpture, his wife thought that his drawings would make good illustrations for children’s books. After his wife showed his pictures to a children’s book editor, Van Allsburg wrote his first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, in 1979. Since then, he has written and illustrated fifteen books. His art has also been featured on the covers of an edition of C.
S. Lewis’ series The Chronicles of Narnia published by HarperCollins in 1994, as well as in three children’s books written by Mark Helprin. Works His books often depict fantastic, uncontrolled events and utilize sometimes-brutal irony. His stories are magical, funny, creepy, poignant, inscrutable, and unforgettable. Van Allsburg breaks out of the comfortable world of children literature to explore the darker side of human nature. For example, his book The Sweetest Fig is about a selfish man who is suddenly given the opportunity to make his wildest dreams come true.
His greed is eventually his downfall. This is not an unusual moral for a story in children books, but Van Allsburg’s chilling characterization of the man brings a frightening tone to the narrative. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a collection of images on one side, and one sentence on the other (meant to be ‘recovered pages’ of longer books) continues the themes of darker undertones and was the inspiration for the short story “The House on Maple Street” by author Stephen King, in his collection Nightmares ;amp; Dreamscapes (as his author’s note expands upon).
The Wretched Stone, in which a ship’s crew is mesmerized and corrupted by the titular rock, is an allegorical tale about the negative impact of television. Other literary themes include dreams, the environment, and items with lives of their own (like the board games in Jumanji and Zathura, two books which are almost the same story, with the only difference being the theme of the board game and the events which are caused by playing). Art of his Picture Books A masterful artist with a talent for unique perspectives and provocative realities, Van Allsburg also has a playful side.
Van Allsburg’s drawings are particularly notable for their use of perspective. In many cases the illustrations are drawn from a child’s eye height. This viewpoint likely appeals to children because it conveys the world as they see it. It may also appeal to adults because they may (unconsciously) perceive the world as they did when they were children. Elements Light and Dark Values- gradation of detail in landscapes from the foreground to the background, he uses shadowing (Zathura) and strong light sources.
Space- floating objects and figures, creates visual illusions of space, the space recedes and goes out of focus Perspective, he often uses an atmospheric perspective (Zathura) or gives every view as seen in Two Bad Ants Texture- he uses textured papers that given a soft grainy quality of the surface, appealing to the eyes, relatable, pleasing and warm to the eye Tone-uniformity in tones of sky, landscape; contrasts brightness, saturation and depth, vividness; interesting tone ranges and variations Balance-one focal point perspective, dominant horizon lines
Design-simplistic and yet mathematical (Jumanji) Composition-uses cropping where he does not show the viewer the entire figure, leaving it to the imagination; unique size, placement and arrangement of objects (Jumanji) grabs and keeps my eyes on the picture Media Conte, charcoal, pencil (Most of his work) Pastels (The Wreck of Zephyr, The Polar Express) Pen and ink (Ben’s Dream, Two Bad Ants) Watercolor Technique Cropping-leaves room for imagination
Line-subtle fine points of sculptural line drawing (Ben’s Dream, and Two Bad Ants) Color -full color pastel drawings are luminescent, mystical and magical (The Wreck of Zephyr) Effects-sumptuous pastel effects (The Polar Express) Monochromatic -black and whites/browns and whites (Produiti) Saturation- he uses extreme saturation and tone range in the foreground of both color and black/white illustration (as seen in the reds in The Wreck of Zephyr, or the white grass in “Oscar and Alphonse” from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick) Style Supernatural tales
Fantasy world where he shifts time, space and perspective Takes his readers on an extraordinary journey Surrealistic-places objects in his illustrations to create inquiry Realism-spaces are realistic, pleasing, ones I can relate and enter into, believable with gradation of tone and detail Unusual story endings Mysterious and eerie worlds (The Mysteries of Harris Burdick) (The Wretched Stone) Games (Jumanji and Zathura) Fascination, sublimely comforting (The Stranger) Narrative Art (Swan Lake) hauntingly beautiful Morals and lessons taught, fablistic (Probuditi, The Sweetest Fig) Process
Van Allsburg was a sculptor first and often uses plastic and clay figures to help him draw. He also hangs pictures of animals far away to create long distance perspectives. He says it takes four to seven months to create a book. He also builds three-dimensional models to experiment with shadowing. Format Uses a formal text placement, sometimes sets the text within the illustration framed by a box Kinds of Paper-textured, grainy papers: charcoal and watercolor papers Borders- occasionally used, the pumpkins in Widow’s Broom
Book Jacket-theses are usually one of the illustrations from the story Front Matter-simple, usually only a dedication End Pages/Endpapers/Back Matter- doesn’t use these typically Alphabet book (The Z was Zapped) Book design- Most of the illustrations bleed off the page, he uses the whole space, often uses cropping Bibliography * The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (1979, won Caldecott Honor in 1980) * Jumanji (1981, won Caldecott Medal in 1982) * Ben’s Dream (1982) * The Wreck of the Zephyr (1983) * The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984) * The Polar Express (1985, won Caldecott Medal in 1986) * The Stranger (1986) The Z Was Zapped (1987) * Two Bad Ants (1988) * Swan Lake (1989, Illustrator, written by Mark Helprin) * Just a Dream (1990) * The Wretched Stone (1991) * The Widow’s Broom (1992) * The Sweetest Fig (1993) * The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1994, Portfolio edition) * Bad Day at Riverbend (1995) * A City in Winter (1996, Illustrator, written by Mark Helprin) * The Veil of Snows (1997, Illustrator, written by Mark Helprin) * Zathura (2002) * Probuditi! (2006) * Queen Of The Falls (2011) * The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (2011) Film adaptations Jumanji (1995) * The Polar Express (2004) * Zathura (2005) Fritz Many books feature Fritz, a bull terrier that is based on a real-life dog owned by Chris Van Allsburg’s brother-in-law. He appears in many of the books and even on his website, sometimes as a real dog, or a toy, or other things as a tribute to the dog’s life. Each of his books features an appearance by Fritz, a bull terrier. Van Allsburg slyly inserts Fritz, based on a dog once owned by his brother-in-law, into each story, sometimes as a dog but other times as a toy, a pitcher, or a child’s drawing.