You know the kid. She puts star stickers on the apples of her cheeks. He insists on wearing a cape everywhere. She may grow up to be the kind of lady who spraypaints one boot yellow and the other silver. He may grow up to be the guy who owns fifty hats and knows how to ride a unicycle.
I know a disproportionate number of people like that, I think. How has that happened?
Anyway, Gaye Chapman, the illustrator of this dreamy silken kaleidoscope of a picture book, is probably one of those people. Lord knows she draws for them. But before I start piling up a bunch of adjectives about the art, let me summarize the story:
Precious Little works in the circus. She's a Cinderella to the trapeze artists and the acrobats, and while she dreams of flying, her kind circus friends can't allow her to perform, with her "wonky cartwheels and fall-over handstands." One day the clowns Fat Chance and Tough Luck stretch a tightrope across their lucky dip and encourage her to try to walk it. Precious falls from the wire... and keeps falling, into the air, into space, into time.
Now can I talk about the art? OH MY GOSH.
Gaye Chapman draws with a delicate, even, graceful line. Her shapes and volumes are meticulously drafted - they have weight and solidity, roundness and drape. Even the most fanciful structures and ornaments have a realistic quality. This is a woman who knows how to use a protractor and a compass. Precious Little looks a bit like the fanciest Victorian Tarot deck ever drawn, with cut-paper elements, metallic accents, and a huge amount of ornamentation. Hearts, banners, Coney Island tattoo-style birds.
The book really does look like some people I know - people with tiger lilies tattoed on their shoulders, people whose dreadlocks are dotted with spangly beads and plastic flowers or whose 40's coif is always just-so. Precious Little's outfit of footless striped tights and tattered ombre-dyed chiffon skirt, arm warmers and a tube top - well let's just say I've seen that outfit in person, and Precious wears it better than most.
There's a fractal quality to the spiraling plunge Precious takes into the lucky dip, and a whiff of Masonic diagram in the more symmetrical compositions. On some pages you may get the sense that if you looked at the figures from far off they would spell out instructive words or form constellations of meaning.
Gaye Chapman's work has previously been seen in the picture books Kaito's Cloth (reviewed by me years ago) and Little Blue, which I could have sworn I reviewed but it looks like not. In addition to her truly stunning draftmanship and bold compositional choices, she is one dilly of a colorist. Colors blend and wash in clouds and dirty chiffon, then lay in strong and clear for flames and gilding and Big Top stripes. Her palette here contains all the vibrant, pretty tones of the circus, but also the colors of snow and gray sky and sepia-toned maps. And even with this many colors, the palette remains disciplined and harmonious.
That much, at least, is not like my friends, juggling clubs in the backyard wearing rhinestone cat-eye glasses and hula skirts made of neckties. More is more for Precious and her friends.