Photo: "Crows at Sunset" from "Crows: Stange and Wonderful" Boyds Mills Press 2002
Western Massachusetts Illustrators' Guild is currently exhibiting selected works by members at the innovative MAP gallery in Eastworks.
Artistic styles range from children’s books to fantasy art to cartoon and comic illustration to nature studies and beyond. The diversity of artists’ work and the size of its membership make the group a dynamic and active resource for illustration. From their webpage (www.wmig.org): "WMIG is a group of professional illustrators in the Connecticut River Valley area that meets monthly in members’ studios to network, socialize, show work, and offer critiques.”
The art on exhibit does span a wide variety of styles and age groups, even though it is all focused on children and young adults. Some of the artists are particularly interested in non-fiction, especially nature and the outdoors. There are many animal portraits and stories.
Many children’s books are sold to adults who find both the art and themes compelling story telling. A number of the WMIG members have won Caldecott medals, awarded annually by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
I spoke with Bob Marstall and Jeff Mack, both members and exhibitors at WMIG. They were looking forward to interacting with the public and discussing their art and publications. The group will be holding an illustration workshop for ages 4 and up where they will demonstrate how to turn words into pictures and work with kids to help them do the same.
Bob and Jeff were discussing the current trends in children’s books and both felt that it is becoming more difficult for artist/writers to break through into print as publishers have become more focused on creating "marketable" series and merchandise to accompany their books. Selling 75,000 copies of a book is now almost counted as a failure in their eyes.
Both authors felt that fantasy as a genre has peaked with harder edged styles becoming more prominent, especially with young adults. Steampunk has a growing audience, for example. Graphic novels have become another outlet for these author/illustrators with Jane Yolen and Greg Ruth being two of the local successes in this genre.
Another trend they have spotted is the popularity of wordless books and they noted that two books in that genre have won Caldecott medals recently, such as this year's Caldecott winner "The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend". Aaron Becker, a WMIG member, won a Caldecott Honor in 2013 for his wordless book "Journey."
Another way that children’s book authors stay in touch with their readers is by touring schools and libraries where they give readings and teach classes in drawing and illustration. Jeff Mack, one of the exhibitors, has done this by decorating libraries and schools with murals. Writers all mention that the job of promoting their works has fallen on them as publishers have cut back on tours and promotions. The authors are expected to represent their works in social media as well. The authors mentioned that it was like having two jobs. Another income stream has opened up recently with some publishers picking up out of print illustrated books and making them available as eBooks . Starwalk Kids Media was mentioned as one of the main players in this area.
The exhibit is being held in the relatively new gallery space called MAP or "Mill Arts Project." The gallery tries to host shows that are guest curated by artists themselves. Last month Stacy Waldman, a dealer in vintage and unusual photographs and a collage artist, curated various artists that are working in that medium.
April 2-28, 2015 Monday through Friday 15
Room 137 in Eastworks, 116 Main St. Easthampton, MA.
Opening Reception 58 pm during Art Walk Easthampton on April 11