Rule Breakers: Rule Number One

We’ve been writing about art and artists since 1990 — fourteen books in thirty years — and, like any longtime collaborators, we have a long list of rules. Sometimes we even remind each other about them (politely, of course). One rule we’ve agreed on since we planned our first book together is to always show the subject’s actual artwork, not illustrations of the work. We have strong feelings about this, and the living artists we’ve written about have been very generous about sending us reproductions of their work.

Action Jackson was our first real picture book, telling the story of Jackson Pollock painting Lavender Mist on the floor in his studio/barn in Springs, Long Island. Our editor, Neal Porter, thought that the illustrator Robert Andrew Parker, who had actually known Pollock, would be a perfect fit. We requested that Parker not try to copy Pollock’s paintings. Luckily, Neal agreed with us. We all believed children should see the real artwork reproduced on the page rather than a copy of a copy. How to do that, with thirty-two pages for the artist to fill? Mr. Parker triumphed by focusing on the physicality of Jackson Pollock and permitting only glimpses of a canvas. At the point in the book when Pollock finishes Lavender Mist, the reader turns the page to see a reproduction of that great painting with its drips of paint and thick weaving lines.

Our next picture book was Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, illustrated by Brian Floca, whose work we admired. But did more problems loom? We put our heads together and agreed that stage sets are more ephemeral than artworks, and it wouldn’t be a problem for Floca to re-create them for the book, though we did include one photograph of the original set in the back matter.

But then along came Two Brothers, Four Hands, the story of Alberto and Diego Giacometti. We were thrilled when Neal told us Hadley Hooper had agreed to illustrate. The first set of sketches arrived with drawings of many artworks by Alberto, including his famous sculpture Walking Man, as well as of handcrafted furniture by Diego — chairs and tables adorned with birds, cats, and horses. Page after page of illustrations perfectly illuminated our text. So, what about Rule Number One — the rule that had influenced so much of how and what we had written? We talked, slept on it, talked some more, and at last agreed: Hooper’s illustrations captured the spirit of the artists’ work. There were no caricatures or exact likenesses. And in keeping with Rule Number One, we included reproductions of a number of Alberto’s sculptures and Diego’s furniture pieces in the back matter. (Permissions were very expensive, and we’re grateful to Holiday House for footing the bill.) Now when we share Two Brothers, Four Hands with young people, we turn the pages and watch them marvel at the illustrations. Since the text and images follow Alberto’s art-making process, a conversation can begin.

Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan are the authors, most recently, of Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti (Porter/Holiday), illustrated by Hadley Hooper, and World of Glass: The Art of Dale Chihuly (Abrams).

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