Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Sophie Blackall and the surprisingly crowded genre of books for children about lighthouses

So I was talking about the inability of award-winning, yet still terrible illustrator Sophie Blackall to handle perspective in her illustrations for a children's book about a lighthouse. To my amazement I found a blog which has an interview with Blackall in which Blackall claims to have done a whole lot of research for the book. I guess that shows that all the research in the world cannot cure an inability to draw.

I've been criticizing Blackall's work long before she won the Caldecott medal in 2016. In 2012 I saw her banner image on the NY subway system and understood her true awfulness even then.

But it looks like I got my wish from this 2016 blog post when I speculated that winning a Caldecott would make Blackall focus on children's illustration. To the relief of all discerning adults.

Just for the heck of it I did some Googling to see how other picture books for children handled the topic of lighthouses. I found that all the artwork in this surprisingly crowded genre was better than Blackall's... well except one, which I will get to at the end.

Here are some examples of both more realistic and more stylized approaches to lighthouses for kids.

A convincing rendition of top-down perspective on a 
lighthouse by artist David Armitage showing it can be done.

This piece by Rosalind Clark might be the most similar in style
to Blackall's that I've seen but yet is so much less awkward.
I shudder to think how Blackall would handle the pose of
the girl on a hillside in this image.

A more realistic work by Elaine Wentworth -
Blackall couldn't do something this realistic
in her wildest dreams

Very stylized but vastly superior technique to Blackall by
Ingrid Godon. Appropriately for a children's picture book,
Godon gets top billing over "with words by Andre Sollie"
What an hysterical title for a kid's book though - love it.

A non-fiction book about lighthouses by Roman Belyaev who
truly understands perspective - stylized, precise and beautiful

Ocean by Emily Dove - so beautiful and graceful.
In a just world it would be Dove winning a Caldecott
medal, not a talentless hack like Blackall. And I bet
Blackall couldn't understand why this
is so much better than her work but then
that's what it means to be an exemplar of the
Dunning-Kruger effect - you don't know
that you're bad because you don't know what
makes something good.
More stellar work by Dove on her web site.

As promised here is the one lighthouse-related piece of children's book illustration that I think is worse than the work of Sophie Blackall.

Like Blackall, Elias is much better at drawing lighthouses than people.
One of the far-superior illustrators
who were runners-up to

the awful Sophie Blackall ~
I can't help but notice that
the chair of the 2016 Caldecott
medal selection committee,
Rachel G. Payne, lives in 
Brooklyn, just like Blackall. 

And BTW this page from the Caldecott site shows all the runners-up beat by Blackall, each and every one a far superior artist to Blackall. They must all be as flabbergasted by the loss as I am.

The problem with someone like Blackall, who can't draw well, winning the most prestigious medal in children's illustration is not simply an incompetent being told she's the best - it's all the truly talented illustrators being told that an incompetent is better than them. That's what really annoys me.

And also that subway card by Blackall in 2012 is truly, truly hideous. I hated being forced to look at it during my commute.

But I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise - if the truly awful Renoir is still considered a great master,  anybody could be.