A panel discussion in progress at Sharjah Children's Reading Festival at Sharjah Expo Centre.
Jamil Khan, Senior Reporter
Prominent children’s book illustrators offered insights into the potential of illustrations in enhancing children’s enjoyment and understanding of stories, and its evolution to the digital format, at a panel discussion titled ‘Digital Illustrations’ hosted at the Al Safa Art and Design Library in Dubai as part of the expanded cultural outreach agenda of the 12th edition of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF).
The session hosted Matt Lamothe, a US-based illustrator and author, and self-taught Emirati digital artist, Aysha Al Hemrani, and was moderated by Emirati poet, Shaikha Al Mutairi.
Speaking at the session, Al Hemrani, illustrator of Two Great Leaders - penned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: "I specialised in this field to present characters for my fellow Emiratis that look like us in their countenance, costumes, habits, and traditions. We are used to seeing interesting characters in Japanese Manga and other comics, and although they are beautiful, they do not look like us.”
It is the social environment she has grown up in that is the inspiration behind her characters, added the Emirati artist.
Discussing the nature and form of the relationship between the author and the illustrator, Al Hemrani said: "From my personal experience, I have come to believe that a positive collaboration between the author and the illustrator can have a significant impact on the final product. Most authors have a vision of what they would like to see, and it is through discussions that an illustrator can create characters that best fit those ideas.”
In response to a question on the differences between the traditional and digital illustration approaches, Matt Lamothe said: "The difference lies primarily in the evolution process. I respect the style of the traditional approach; their significance and value cannot be underestimated. I was a champion of this school until I moved to the digital format which has since helped me save money, time and effort.”
He added: "Both styles share the same fundamental requirements and call for the same kind of skills. The main difference is that the digital approach is quicker and easier; and it is easier to correct mistakes without having to restart the work from scratch as is often the case in the traditional approach.”
The integral role of the visual narrative in storytelling and enhancing a child’s sense of wonder takes the spotlight at the 12th Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival currently on at Expo Centre Sharjah where artists and illustrators from 50 countries are exhibiting 395 works at the Sharjah Children's Book Illustration Exhibition, running alongside the main event.
Currently in its 9th edition, the Illustration Exhibition features 106 works of artists from across 15 Arab nations while artists from 35 foreign countries are exhibiting 289 picturesque works.
From realistic and abstract styles to images with a bright and cheery palette, or sombre shades and monochromatic illustrations, the works on display instantly shifts the mood from happy and magical to mysterious, gloomy, or scary as it provides an immediate connection with the setting of the story.
Depicting a wide range of artistic techniques to effectively provide the context and the personality of a book’s characters, the exhibition demonstrates the power of the visual narrative in helping young readers establish a relationship with the written word, and in opening the doors to their understanding of a story.
Incorporating both modern and folkloric elements from 50 cultures around the world including Estonia, Chile, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, the Philippines, Lithuania, Argentina, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, amongst others, the exhibition offers a glimpse into the unlimited possibilities a single image has in bringing a story to life.
The UAE is represented through the works of Emirati artists Salem Al Junaibi and Asma Alhosani, the bold colours of Eman AlRaesi’s simple designs and the stark visuals of Khalid Al Banna.
The bold, expressive, and innovative artistry on display reinforces the endearing appeal of illustrations in sparking imagination and enriching the text even as it transcends the boundaries of language.
Reading is a time-tested method to improve children’s emotional health, enhance their communication skills, and aid their creativity and personality development. Reading allows them a window into a world of fascinating experiences that emerge from imaginative stories. From its characters, children learn how to deal with challenges they may face in life, and finally, reading together is a wonderful way to strengthen the parent-child bond.
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