Alison Padley-Woods invites Soni Speight to tell us about an illustrator who has inspired her.

There are so many illustrators that have made an impact on me over the years, that when I was asked to write about just one I really had to think. Eric Carle’s Hungry Caterpillar and Not Now, Bernard by David McKee were early favourites, followed in no particular order by Quentin Blake, John Burninhgam, Tove Jansson, Brian Wildsmith, Oliver Jeffers and E.H Shepherd. But who had a real impact on my work?

I think for me it is Sara Fanelli. I discovered her work while I studied at college and it was like a beacon of light saying come and look. Suddenly book illustration was an adventure, with exciting possibilities. And while many other book illustrators and designers may demonstrate the same experimental energy, it was Sara Fanelli’s work that just enthralled me and captured my imagination.

Dear Diary, Sara Fanelli,
 Walker Books 2000

Sara Fanelli was born in Florence in 1969 and grew up being encouraged to look at art and design by her architect father and art historian mother. She came to England in 1988 to study at London Art School, at the Camberwell School of Art, and then the Royal College of Art. She has won several awards including the Macmillan Prize for Children’s Picture Book Illustration in 1992 for her book Button and the V&A Illustration Awards Overall Winner in 2004 for Pinocchio. She was also selected by Quentin Blake as one of the top thirteen contemporary children’s illustrators working in UK, for the British Art Council exhibition The Magic Pencil.

Cover and sleeve of Pinocchio, Sara Fanelli,
Walker Books, 2003
Pinocchio's nose grows as you take the book out to read

In an interview for the Association of Illustrators in 2000, Fanelli claimed to be inspired by Matisse, David Hockney, Paul Klee, folklore and peasant art. She finds reading very stimulating and believes that’s why she chose to become an illustrator, so that she can ‘create images that are parallel to words…to have the chance to carry on being inspired by these ideas and then doing my own visual response to them…’

Pinocchio, by Sara Fanelli,
Walker Books, 2003

The picture books that Fanelli writes, designs and illustrates for children are like a cabinet of curiosities, often considered experimental. Her approach to creating a book is to start with an idea of what the story is about, then as she writes she forms an image in her head of how it should look. She creates layouts in pencil and often collaborates with a graphic designer to get the typography how she wants it. She has covered subjects like Greek myths, life mapping, the first flight of a butterfly, and diaries - reworking and reinventing them. She likes to surprise and often adds bizarre elements to her images, which can work on many levels to please readers of all ages.

Pinocchio, Sara Fanelli,
Walker Books, 2003

Her illustrations are usually produced in collage but there is a clear love of print, typography and photography as well. Some text is hand-rendered, bits of old-fashioned handwriting are regularly used, and her pieces are layered with found objects, photos, stained papers, mono and screen prints, paint and crayon. Colour and texture seem very important, with things like sugar and rice sprinkled on surfaces to give them new depth and qualities. There is an eclectic lively element like that of Lauren Child, which seems childlike yet sophisticated at the same time.

Sometimes I think, Sometimes I am, Sara Fanelli,
Walker Books, 2007

For me, it was the playfulness that made me love her books most – they are like scrapbooks of stories with a treasure trove of things to discover. In Sometimes I Think, Sometimes I Am, there is a book inside a book inside a book! And you travel through collage and printmaking, textures and marks as you turn the pages. Pinocchio makes me smile every time I slip it out of its special sleeve - Pinocchio's famous nose grows as you get the book out to read. And there are little details sprinkled throughout – in the corners of pages and around the titles on pages.

Mythological Monsters, Sara Fanelli,
Walker Books, 2002
Just look at those glasses!

For young readers, these details make them stare at the pages, and the fun use of collage leads to creative play and storytelling using paint, colour and cut up magazines. Show Mythical Monsters to a class and then let them loose on a stack of newspaper and they very quickly start creating their own dragons and beasties.

Mythological Monsters, Sara Fanelli,
Walker Books, 2002

Header image: From left, Mythical Monsters
Sometimes I Think, Sometimes I Am, 
Dear Diary, all Sara Fanelli, Walker Books


Soni Speight is a freelance illustrator and designer, and Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI British Isles.
Find her on Twitter and Instagram

Alison Padley-Woods is Words & Pictures' Deputy Illustration Features Editor.  Find her on Twitter

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