Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Jan Pieńkowski

Jan Pieńkowski is an illustrator most famous for the ‘Meg and Mog’ series, but I particularly like his silhouette work, which is a very different style. He has illustrated a number of fairytales like this; the image shown is a story about Baba Yaga from a collection called “The Kingdom under the Sea” and I think that the swirling, marbled backgrounds give a sense of a magical, otherworldly setting.

On top of the marbled paper are black silhouettes which create dramatic contrast, and are often highly detailed. A good thing about silhouettes for narrative work is that it gives the reader space to imagine the appearances of the characters. (I read in an interview that this style came about when Pieńkowski got frustrated with the facial expressions of the characters and just inked over them before a deadline.)

Although his silhouettes are detailed I don’t think his work ever looks particularly cluttered. In this picture there are a number of narrative elements – I find the chicken-legged house particularly intriguing, and you could probably come up with a story just by looking at this single image.

I owned this book as a child and really loved the sense of atmosphere in the illustrations, some of which were quite dark/creepy. I’d recommend his older work as I think in more recent books the silhouettes are more cartoon-like and less elegant, though it may be that they’re aimed at younger children.

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