What would a snowman look like if Picasso painted it?
What about Turner or O’Keeffe or Monet or Lichtenstein? Pollock or Dalí or Klee? What if they decided to paint a snowman or woman? What would they look like?
Utahns Amy and Greg Newbold explore this premise in their colorful, informative new picture book, “If Picasso Painted a Snowman,” which features snowpeople painted in the style of some of the world’s most iconic and influential artists. Also included are brief biographies about the artists, making the book an excellent introduction to art history for children.
The idea for this book came to author Amy Newbold after she and her sisters visited the Musée Picasso in Paris. “I was fascinated by Picasso’s constant exploration through art,” she says. “He was never content to create the same things over and over and continued to push his own skills to push boundaries. Not only did he paint, but he sculpted using unusual materials.”
Newbold wanted her children, as well as others, to learn about Picasso’s process as they embarked upon their own creative journeys. “In the Musée Picasso that day, I wondered what a snowman by Picasso would look like. The thought stayed with me.” And thus the idea for a book began to take shape.
Amy pitched the idea to her husband, illustrator Greg Newbold, who responded with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. He was “a hard sell,” she admits. Greg agrees: “Initially I didn’t catch the vision.” Illustration projects demand a huge investment of time, especially for a perfectionist like Greg, who wasn’t sure he could muster the level of passion he wants to bring to his work.
“But the more I thought about it, the more excited I became,” he recalls. “I started seeing paintings I might spoof or artists who might work well in the mix.” By the time they pitched the project to the publisher Tilbury House, he was fully committed.
How were the book’s featured artists selected?
As the project evolved, Amy settled on the following criteria: She spotlighted deceased artists who were artistically influential, many of whom were associated with important art movements. Because the book was Amy’s idea, Greg left much of the selection up to her with the proviso that he felt comfortable replicating a given artist’s style. He did, however, suggest they include Paul Klee and Roy Lichtenstein. And together they decided to include artists like Sonia Delaunay and American Indian artist Pablita Velarde.
The experience of painting in other styles was revelatory for Greg. “I learned many new processes,” he notes, “but probably the most fun I had was imitating Jackson Pollock’s drip style action paintings. Some people look at Pollock’s work and assume that they could do it since all you have to do is spatter paint around.”
But wait, he says. “After more study, I realized that Pollock’s work is far from random and unplanned. There is an interesting rhythm and process in the way he layered paint. I had a great afternoon in the backyard dancing around my canvas laid on the ground, deciding where the next splash of paint would look the best and trying to put it there.” Greg feels particularly happy with the way his Pollock painting turned out. In fact, the publisher used it as the book’s endpapers and the Newbolds are planning to have a Pollock painting party in their backyard at a future date.
Greg also had a good time painting Max, the hamster who guides the reader through the pages of the book. Named after a former family pet, this Max, Amy notes, “wears Monet’s beret, Dalí’s mustache, Picasso’s striped shirt and Van Gogh’s ear bandage.” Not only that, but his paw prints show up on the Pollock pages. “It has been fun to see how many adults get the sight gags,” Amy says.
What hopes do the Newbolds have for “If Picasso Painted a Snowman”? Ideally, they’d love for children of all ages to read it and learn about some of the world’s most influential artists.
“It’s the book we wished we could have found in museum gift shops after taking our own children to art exhibits,” says Amy. “But I think the book has potential with a wider audience. I would love to see teachers use this in classrooms, even in higher grades.”
After living with this project, which of the featured artists would the Newbolds most enjoy inviting to lunch? Amy would love to meet Pablita Velarde. “I would ask her about the stories in her book ‘Old Father Storyteller.’ I would love to know more about her culture, and I would ask her what gave her the strength to defy her elders and become a painter.”
Greg says he would like to pack a picnic lunch and go field painting with Vincent Van Gogh. “I would love to eat a sandwich and paint with Vincent while asking him about his color choices, his stroke making and design decisions. But let’s be honest. Basically it would be an excuse to watch him paint!”
Amy and Greg Newbold will be signing “If Picasso Painted a Snowman” at the following locations:
• Saturday, Nov. 25, 1-4 p.m. at The Printed Garden, 9445 S. Union Square, Sandy
• Saturday, Dec. 2, 1-4 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Sugarhouse, 1104 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City
• Thursday, Dec. 5, 5-7 p.m. at The King’s English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Greg Newbold has also illustrated a newly published retelling by David Warner of “The Little Match Girl.” You can view his portfolio at gregnewbold.com and follow him on Instagram and Facebook at Greg Newbold Art.
If Picasso Painted a Snowman
By Amy Newbold, illustrations by Greg Newbold
Tilbury House Publishers
Age range: 4-8 years; grade level: 1-6