Befriending a crow as a child, is sure fire way to get to the top of my illustrators to blog about list. Being from Yorkshire is the second best way.
Pat Hutchins was born in Scorton, North Yorkshire in 1942. Her parents separated shortly after the war and she grew up, the sixth of seven children, in the countryside of Cumbria (her mum worked at the Derwent Pencil Factory).
"As I loved drawing, I would wander round the countryside with my drawing book under my arm and my pet crow on my shoulder (he was too lazy to fly), and while he searched for grubs, I sketched. Books were my other love, so it was inevitable that I would go to art school and study illustration."
And study illustration she did. Despite her families financial hardships, Pat won a scholarship at Darlington School of Art and went on to study illustration at Leeds College of Art.
After taking work as an illustrator in an advertising firm (she was told her portfolio still needed work by the London publishers), she met her husband and moved with him to New York. She showed her improved portfolio and an idea for a book about animal noises to U.S publishers, who asked her to write a story about the fox character who doesn't make a noise. And that story, with a lot of editing, became the thirty-two word classic, Rosie's Walk.
Published in 1968, Rosies walk was very much influenced by the printing techniques of the time. Full colour printing was still very expensive, so Pat used just three colours - black, yellow and red. And this is where school taught colour theory explodes because, yellow + black = green. It's this flat colour combined with decorative-line patterns that draws me to Pat's early work so much.
Rosie's Walk is a pedestrian story, going against all story-arc theory, as nothing really happens. In reality its a series of near-death events. But it's the huge gap between the pictures and the text which make this book so successful. It's one of my favourite picture book techniques - décalage.
"I was trying to think of it filmically. I set it up on each page so that it is the child turning the page who makes the drama."
Changes, Changes, published in 1971, was her third picture book. In it, we see Pat return to the concept of circularity. Rosie's Walk is a side-scrolling story that returns to the same location it started. Pat repeats this exact format with her later books, 'We're Going On A Picnic' (2002) and 'Where, Oh Where Is Rosie's chick?' (2015). But in Changes, Changes, the circularity is within the images themselves.
Two small wooden dolls make things with a set of children's building blocks. The blocks never change, the dolls always and only have the same blocks to work with for each new creation. Pat Hutchins, quite literally illustrates the same shapes in different formations for each spread. On paper it sounds dull, but she manages to wordlessly create a compelling narrative, with each building creating an action that leads onto the next building. And where Rosie's Walk introduced children to prepositional words, Changes Changes explores the mathematical concepts of causation, repetition and accumulation.
It's hard to pick a favourite Pat Hutchin's book, I've shared two already but there is one more from Pat's early career that deserve a mention. Good-night, Owl! (1973) has the most satisfying ending for an owl constantly kept awake by noisy birds in their tree (and a very tired mother). And again, it has beautiful repetition, both of the text, 'and Owl tried to sleep', and within the illustration - Owl remaining the exact same on most pages, just their eyes changing.
As beginner illustrators we often seek the holy grail of 'our style', and are sometimes told to have a distinct style so our work can be recognised, but Pat Hutchins held to a different belief, one held by another often named as influential in the history of picture books - Maurice Sendak (that's another one to add to my blog list).
"Style, to me, is purely a means to an end, and the more styles you have the better […] Each book obviously demands an individual stylistic approach." - Maurice Sendak
I adore the style in Pat's early work, but with the publishing of Titch (1971) we see another style begin to emerge.
We still see the same flat colours and a very similar colour palette, but the decorative and patterned line work has gone. I'm also a huge fan of pat's negative space, white skies and backgrounds.
In 1974 Pat Hutchins was awarded the Greenaway medal for The Wind Blew (1974). Her illustrations move even further away from Rosie's Walk, with full colour and a softer technique using less line-work, but retains the white sky and page-turning, side-scrolling action. It captures the momentum of wind beautifully.
I kind of love that Pat Hutchins had such varied style, and she switched it up all the way through her career. I love her flat colours and decorative patterns, but also appreciate the composition and delicacy of her full colour, watercolour illustrations. But what really drives my love of Pat Hutchins' work, is her mastery as a storyteller.
In a beautiful way, Pat's work comes full circle with the last book she published, Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick? (2015). We find ourselves back on Rosie's farm, back with the same limited, flat colours and decorative patterns, and back accompanying Rosie walking through a book.