As writers we use description and dialogue (with peculiarities of speech) to differentiate between characters, to bring characters to life. Illustrators follow our descriptions in artwork briefs (or in the story for those who actually read the stories – very few, I gather) to bring the characters to life visually. They further illustrate the story by showing characters’ reactions to situations, with expressions of fear/fright, sadness, happiness, laughter, anger, frowns, scowls, smiles; there’s action and movement.
That’s it. Then I realised when I chose the illustrations for my last post that some artists have an additional gift/ability, and that is to show personality. Personality, while not essential, adds value to an illustration. And for no reason, I remembered a song from my youth, something like … ‘she’s got style and personality …’ (Lloyd Price, for those whose memory goes that far back) which I loved, hence the title for this piece. This does not have much to do with children’s literature except that it was a cool song. (Who wouldn’t want to have style and personality?) And it just seemed to suit the concept of personality in illustrations.
I’ve chosen to share examples from two different styles of work.
Cartoon style lends itself to mimicry, to laughter, but not necessarily to personality. So it’s delightful that from Cricket is My Game, written and illustrated by Jason Cole, (Barbados, 2006), we meet Rosie, the little girl with the personality on the cover. We know that she’s fun. Amongst the other characters we meet in the book, is Lucy. “Lucy’s spin bowling is really the trick….” We don’t’ need to read that Lucy won’t make any chance of an appeal pass her. We can see it in her personality.
In more realistic illustrations it should be easy to spot personality. It isn’t always. In A Season for Mangoes, set in Jamaica, written by Regina Hanson and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, (Clarion Books, New York, 2005) Sareen is a young girl you with style and personality; a little unsure of herself but she ‘s getting there.
Down by the River compiled by Grace Hallworth, illustrated by Caroline Binch, (Mammoth, UK, 1997) abounds with characters with style and personality. One image shows a girl who is Miss Personality herself. It is here also that I found illustrations of boys with personality (often hard to find). The front cover shows a lot of children and this artist has managed to capture the personality of each child, and each is different. Can you imagine the young reader ‘stepping into a book’ and discovering that he/she actually sees a character with personality, someone that it would be great to be friends with? (Or not.) Can you imagine that! That must rank right up there with recognizing yourself in books.