Last week, we posted a gallery of stunning vintage illustrations from classic children’s books — which only whetted our appetite for more. We went searching for their contemporary counterparts and ended up excavating a treasure trove of illustration eye candy as delicious as the stories that share its pages. From the artists behind our beloved ’80s and ’90s classics to newer names on the scene, we can’t take our eyes off these gorgeous works by our favorite illustrators working today. Partial to anyone we didn’t mention? Add them in the comments.
Blexbolex, from Seasons , 2010
A screen printer by training, Blexbolex has illustrated and written over a dozen children’s books in his wonderfully minimalist, soft-colored drawings. He accompanies his cartoony pictures with large block letter words, often just one per page, that are surprisingly thought-provoking. He’s most famous for his 2008 book L’Imagier des gens, which earned the hardy title of “Best Book Design in the World” at the Book Fair of Leipzig in 2009, but his most recent creation, Seasons, has made a pretty big splash in children’s literature as well. It tours a single landscape over the course of the four seasons, each page featuring a snapshot, as wide-angled as children playing and as zoomed in as a caterpillar crawling, that somehow capture the mood of the times of year.
Axel Scheffler, from The Graffalo’s Child , 2004
If you received a Christmas card from former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2006, then you’ve enjoyed the artwork of its illustrator, Axel Scheffler. Originally from Germany, Scheffler came to Britain to study at the Bath Academy of Art and made a name for himself drawing for children’s book authors across Europe. His most famous books (authored by Julia Donaldson) center on the UK’s favorite monster, the Graffalo.
Kadir Nelson, from A Nation’s Hope , 2011
Much of Kadir Nelson’s work depicts African-American history and culture, weighty issues that are complemented well by the realistic, grave style of his cartoons. In addition to his children’s book illustrations, Nelson has worked on a number of drawing projects for the Postal Service, Coca Cola, and Sports Illustrated, among others. His book, A Nation’s Hope, which came out earlier this year, was named one of the top ten illustrated kids’ books of the year by The New York Times.
Susan Mitchell, from Christmas Lights , 2006
Susan Mitchell’s warming illustrations go well with every season, though there’s something about winter that she captures exactly. It was her destiny, she says, to have come from Scotland to Canada to pursue illustration, foretold by a fortune teller she went to see back in the old country. In her spare time, she also makes toys and, a master of ink, often uses the medium to create the 15-minute illustrations on her website, which are some of our favorites.
Meilo So, from A Midsummer Foy , 2011
Meilo So spent her early years in Hong Kong and takes much of her subject matter from memories of her time there — the bustling thoroughfares, the chachkas sold on the street, the faces and traditions. Her pictures are vibrant and loud, a result that has as much to do with her boldness as with her varied use of materials and processes. So is now based on the Shetland Isles and calls her workspace “the most northerly publishing shed in Britain.”
Rosana Faria, from The Black Book of Colors , 2008
Rosana Faria’s illustrations diverge from the beaten path, sometimes incorporating a tactile element in addition to the visuals. Hailing from Caracas, she’s drawn books for the blind as well as the sighted. Many of them are highly conceptual and even philosophical, like The Black Book of Colors, above, in which she used a colorless palette to depict the idea of color.
Eric Carle, from Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? , 2007
The world has known and loved Eric Carle since he illustrated his famous book The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 1969, but the extremely prolific artist has produced many masterpieces after that initial one, like his bear series, the most recent edition of which is pictured above. Carle’s style has become culturally iconic over the years, his painted tissue-paper works easily recognizable and admired worldwide.
Emily Gravett, from The Odd Egg , 2009
Emily Gravett’s drawings perfectly match the feel of those early years of childhood. Her charming, temperate color palette and beautiful visualization of movement through time animate the humor and excitement of a child poring over a picture book.
Paul Hess, from The Cow on the Roof , 2007
The Australian picture-book genius Paul Hess has produced an abundance of published works, most notably children’s books but also advertising campaign drawings, covers, and more. His stylized characters and setting make up a colorful, exciting, grainy, dreamlike world.
Thomas Docherty, from Little Boat , 2009
Bristol’s Thomas Docherty made a splash in the children’s literary scene with his book, Little Boat, whose gorgeous nautical scenes caught our eye as well. Through the boyish imagination in his illustrations, he conjures up that aesthetic of childhood naïveté, its wanderlust and simplicity implicit in his brush strokes.
Anne Yvonne Gilbert, from The Wild Swans , 2005
The intricate illustrations of Anne Yvonne Gilbert capture that fairytale aura many children’s books have given up on — and without any of the triteness we sometimes associate with such an embellished style. The British artist masterfully creates a fantasy land of Mucha-like fairies, animals, and princes, mostly to accompany older medieval and classic tales but also to pair with an occasional original contemporary kids story.
Lane Smith, from Grandpa Green , 2011
Lane Smith has been showered with critical acclaim for years now, but his most recent book, Grandpa Green, was a particularly crowd-pleasing hit, and it’s no wonder why. Its style strays from his more saturated, smoky illustrations of books past but manages to do something really interesting with a much more limited color palette and varied textures. We love both.