Books as reference, inspiration, and setting the bar high

Character study, pencil and gouache

As a children’s book creator, I study a lot of picture books. Needless to say, I’ve amassed a huge library. I’ve used the books as reference and inspiration for whatever book I was working on at the time, and also as a gauge for setting a high bar for my own books. Currently I’m illustrating a book written by Chris Barton, a friend and critique buddy.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is a nonfiction biography about John Roy Lynch, a one-time enslaved African American who later became a prominent politician. Lynch was among the first generation of African Americans who got into politics following the Civil War during the Reconstruction period.

For the Lynch book, I purchased nearly 25 picture books, reference books, movies and documentaries. Below is a list of picture books that inspired me in some way:

Electric Ben

I love this book for it’s authenticity. Author/illustrator Robert Byrd successfully captures the time period of Ben Franklin in art and book design. The book is obviously well researched, a perfect example of narrative illustration.

A Boy Called Dickens
Very convincing portrayal of old London, mid-1800s. I love the golden colors and antique feel combined with soft colors. I also like the use of illustrated typography.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds
Illustrated by John Hendrix, the same illustrator of A Boy Called Dickens, this book successfully captures the ambiance of the Civil War, while it’s lighthearted illustrations soften the subject matter. I haven’t even read the story, but I don’t really need to — there’s so, so much to look at and learn from the art alone.

A Splash of Red
Oftentimes with biographies of African Americans, a more realistic, almost portraiture approach is used for the illustrations. A Splash of Red veers away from that more traditional, ridged style, employing a fun, naive, and child-friendly look. This is what I want for my books!

A River of Words
This book combines collage with Sweet’s — very sweet — childlike paintings. I’m not a collagist, my mind simply does not work that way. And if I tried, I’d only excel in making a big mess. But with the Lynch book, I do plan to loosen up a bit. Experiment.

Truly authentic. I’m totally convinced that Cole traveled back in a time machine to get his reference.

The Glorious Flight
The characters and color pallet are convincingly 1901 French.

Home on the Bayou
For the same reasons I was inspired by A Splash of Red, the naive style is appealing, and illustrator focused more on the gestures and action of the characters and less on photo-accuracy of the anatomy.

Liberty’s Voice
Many of the books that I’ve listed used a gold-brown antiquing technique to capture the mood of the time period. But with Liberty’s Voice, the artist captured a golden age using bright, vibrant colors.

Henry’s Freedom Box
Because anything that Kadir illustrates is inspiring. Duh.

Hope’s Gift
Yes, my own books actually inspire me.

Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette
Love this book!  What more to say?

I have these books on order:

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero


One thought on “Books as reference, inspiration, and setting the bar high

  1. Thanks for showing how important the research process is for illustration projects.

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