Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mary Blair, part 2

Disney buffs might beg to differ, but I think Mary Blair's most beautiful and inventive images are her children's book illustrations. Blair's gift for color and composition are so evident in these clever designs (for example, in Little Verses, Baby's House, and--the sole subject of next week's third Mary Blair post--I Can Fly). Above: a spectacular spread from Little Verses. The flat planes of brilliant saturated color work as well as they do here because of the smart composition and the striking forms.

Below: two more pages from Little Verses. The illustration on the left is so imaginative and sweetly ornamental, with the floral forms and the bumblebees forming patterns of their own without stealing focus from the central character, a cherry blossom tree. And the illustration on the right is such a pleasure to look at because Blair has engineered movement into the composition; you eye knows exactly where to look, and when. With its focus on movement, this is one of those Mary Blair illustrations that reflects her many years of thinking like an animator (want to read a bit about her long and impressive career with Disney?).

Baby's House combines some of Blair's most decorative work with her unmistakable color style. With the exception of Paul Rand, no one does flat, geometric forms as beautifully as Mary Blair, and I think those qualities really stand out in BH. Below: cover design and two single-page illustrations from Baby's House. The image of Baby wrapped in a fuzzy towel is one of my favorite Blair illustrations because of the color contrasts, the patterning and skewed perspectives of the background elements, the shaping of the frame (it seems so spontaneous!), and, especially, of course, the gorgeous white space that creates the form of the towel. Just dazzling! And pure Mary Blair.

Next: if you've never seen Mary Blair's most celebrated children's book, I Can Fly, you're in for an unforgettable treat. My third Mary Blair post will be nothin' but ICF, a Little Golden Book so incredibly popular that, in the nearly sixty years since it was first published, it has never been out of print.


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