The palette is the overall color theme that an illustrator chooses. We all know how the color of a room can affect our feelings. The same holds true for the picture book page.
Of course, the illustrator is chosen by the art director and/or editor because their style reflects the tone and the mood of the book. But, that can be manipulated and enhanced by the color choices that the illustrator selects. The illustrator might not have a palette restriction for the entire book, but also might switch within the story to help narrate the mood and setting.
I recently illustrated a picture book by Suzanne Slade, for Charlesbridge Publishing titled, “The Inventor’s Secret”. It’s about the friendship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. In Suzanne’s narrative she switches back and forth between the two inventors. Art Director, Whitney Leader-Picone and I felt that a palette shift between the two characters would help differentiate between the two. So Henry, the inventor whose passion was rusty gears, brass tools, oil and worn car parts, would be warm browns, sepia, and ochre hues. Thomas, more of a chemical inventor, conjured up thoughts of metal, industrial test tubes, and concoctions in apothecary jars. So Thomas’s palette would be cool blues, purples, and slate grays.
Since that project, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to how, and why, the artist selects their color scheme and I’ve found it to be very interesting. Here’s a photo of my latest library haul. Just look at how the different color choices reflect the stories inside!
“Maple”, by Lori Nichols has a decidedly springy palette that echoes the tree growing and new birth. Contrast that with Kazuno Kohara’s Halloween-palette tale of “The Midnight Library”. And “Tap Tap Boom Boom”, illustrated by G. Brian Karas about a thunderstorm in the city, there are no sunny yellow colors here!
Next time you’re perusing a picture book, think about the color shifts that the artist uses and how they enhance the story. I think it’s probably something that most of us do subconsciously, or is it? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.