Thursday, December 4, 2014

Draw! by Raúl Colón

Draw! by Raúl Colón

Rating: 5 stars

Last month the New York Times published their annual list (and I'm a lover of all lists, especially when they are lists of books, not to-dos) of Best Illustrated Books for 2014. Click HERE to access this great list. But watch out! Raúl Colón's gorgeous book Draw! is the first one, and when I looked at the illustration from it I knew I needed to see all of it. So don't expect to just look. Expect to buy. At least one. (I already owned Shackleton's Journey, or else I would have purchased that, too.)


Raúl Colón suffered from severe asthma as a child. Frequently, he'd find himself locked up indoors--for days on end--in order to hide from the pollen that made breathing difficult. But he endured those many hours on those many days away from the world by escaping into books and his own drawing (and sometimes comic books he wrote and illustrated himself). This wordless picture book is inspired by the hours he spent as a child trapped in his room but free in his imagination...

In Draw!, a boy is sitting on his bed, absorbed in a book about Africa. He puts the book aside and grabs his sketchbook, and draws himself walking, walking, walking into the book. (This transporting-into-a-book is something my kids talk about all the time. Are they alone? Do your kids do this?) The boy walks and walks until he sees an elephant. Gladly, it is a friendly elephant that poses for him and then gives him a ride rather than charges him.

The elephant becomes his guide as he walks around the grasslands, meeting and drawing giraffes, lions, gorillas, water buffalo, and a rhino that is the least friendly of the bunch (check out the cover, above left). His eyes and heart soak up the experience and he draws and draws and draws all these animals...until suddenly he is transported back to his original world, where he is presenting his animal artwork to his class.

The wordless story is fine. But the illustrations! They are inspirational works of art, each one.

I loved reading more about Raúl Colón and his technique in an interview on the fabulous School Library Journal blog. Here's what he has to say about how he draws each and every illustration in this book, and his others:

Usually I use colored pencil over watercolor wash. In this case, with the African images, I bought Pantone color papers, and I went straight onto the paper with Prismacolor pencils. The paper has a nice grain to it. If you’re going to use color pencils, it’s good to use a grain paper. 
I found the etching instrument by accident—something [a former] boss purchased when I worked at a  TV station in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It’s like a giant flat coin with prongs sticking out. First I sketch onto the paper. The boy’s pants may look brown, but there are actually layers of greens, purples, and blues, which make the colors appear much more vivid. (I learned this from the Impressionists, who put colors next to each other to enhance images.) After I know where everything goes, I start etching with this instrument—wherever I think I need movement or volume.
We're fans of this author/illustrator for sure. I'm embarrassed that this is the first time I've mentioned him on this blog! If you're curious about his work, definitely check out more books by him. (Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates is my personal favorite.)

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