Stories in Pictures: The Art of Dan Yaccarino

This past Sunday, we went to hear Dan Yaccarino talk about his career as a picture book author and illustrator at the Greenville County Museum of Art. The exhibit is one in a long line of the museum’s very cool commitment to bringing guest illustrators to town once a year, and a great chance to see how all those pretty pages get their start.

The first thing Dan talked about was his nostalgia for mid-century design, which is clear in the shapes and colors he uses, and the occasional rotary phone and vintage camper he paints. And he does paint, the old old-fashioned way, most of his illustrations. He works primarily in this fascinating, temperamental medium called gouache, which doesn’t allow for you to paint over something like a background, or a mistake. He talked about how each of his illustrations has to be planned with this in mind, as opposed to the endless amounts of choices and changes you can make when you scan drawings into a computer and use digital tools like Photoshop.

When Dan begins to connect with a story, some he writes himself and some he illustrates for others, he begins to think about colors and shapes on the page, where things go, and so by the time he’s actually making drawings, these pictures are fixed in his imagination, and changing the backdrop from blue to green to puce is not really very useful.
We got to ask the question we’ve always wanted to ask someone who does this for a living— because we all had picture books we wanted to have read to us over and over again as kids, and we’ve all been tortured by picture books we had to read over and over again as parents—how does a savvy author serve both audiences, the reader and the read-to?

Purchase from M.Judson Books

Purchase from M.Judson Books

Dan talked about peppering his stories with bits of pop culture reference from that med-century era as well, stuff adults would get more than kids, and the conversations he imagines that makes possible between parent and child. Like in Lawn to Lawn, a story of a troupe of talking lawn ornaments who have to find their girl when the moving truck leaves them behind, he tucks a velvet Elvis painting into a waiting canoe at the moving sale. Who doesn’t want a chance to explain that to their kids?

The exhibit runs through July 5th.