Friday, August 5, 2011

Denise Fleming: Illustrating for the Very, Very Young

If picture book making was competitive French pastry baking, Denise Fleming would be wearing the blue, red, and white collar of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. But she's equally happy to wear a croissant-shaped hat* instead, because that's what would most appeal to her target audience, the very, very little kids that are moving from board books to picture books.

When illustrating for the very, very young some key ingredients are:

  • Strong graphics. Simple, bold bright, but not entirely lacking in the subversive or a bit of detail: give kids something a little extra, things hiding in the picture or in the background, like a pile of croissants.
  • Make the actions kid friendly. If you look at Denise's ALPHABET UNDER CONSTRUCTION, her original sketches were quite different—there were big, heavy adult actions and jobs—welding, carving giant cement blocks. But in the final, all of the materials and actions can be found in daycares and done by little kids: painting, knotting yarn, eating baked goods, gluing stuff...


You can never use too much glue.

Denise blows raspberries at the teacher rhyme, "Just a dot, not a lot."

  • Clean fonts. Make sure it's easy for little kids to distinguish not only different letters but different cases in your type by choosing the right font and not doing anything to wild, like make the text read croissants, not cRoissAnTs.
There's more ingredients than that, but how are those for a taste? Light and flaky, yet disarmingly moist, am I right? For a bit more about Denise plus a slideshow of her books, you can visit this post. She's on Twitter! @DeniseKFleming. We need to bombard her with Twitterlove and get her tweeting more regularly.**

*I'm correct in assuming no child has ever refused a croissant, oui?
**I won't write more anymore about irregularity.***
***Or croissants. It must be time for a snack.


  1. Oh wow! Denise Fleming is there? I am a huge fan of her beautiful art. I have all her books at my studio for inspiration!

  2. Excellent tips! They make total sense to my art side AND my teacher side. I also prefer a lot to a dot of glue - get real other teachers, a dot is not going to make it stick!!! Plus, it's more fun to peel that layer of glue off and pretend it's skin ... :)

  3. She's here, Laura! She's fantastic.
    Patrick, I'm so glad you are exposing the hidden world of teachers who like glue.