Illustrations by Suzy Ultman
Chronicle Books, 2009
$24.95, all ages
It's easy to go gaga over Ultman's collection of 12 ready-to-frame prints inspired by her childhood, the latest in Chronicle's wall art series. They're so sunny and serene, you feel happy just having them around.
Echoing her love of nature and travel, Ultman depicts some of the simple wonders of growing up in New England, from tree groves, owls and acorns to harbor whales and hot air balloons, as well as an imaginary world where snails carry cottages on their backs and worms with bowler hats and hair bows live in apple houses.
A few of Ultman's designs are single character images, like one of a bird serenely sitting on a high-wheel bicycle with a weather vane on the handle bars, but many are collections of happy things. In one Ultman shows rows of apples with rosy faces mixed in with apple halves suggesting an orchard, while in another kites with big friendly eyes and breezy tails look at you from the sky as if they're inviting you to come and play with them.
Flipping through the prints, reproduced on 12-inch by 16-inch thick paper, is like looking into the face of a genuinely happy child. The warm colors and wide eager eyes of Ultman's subjects, both animate and inanimate, draw you in, and suggest contentment as well as pleasure. Some eyes are quietly happy, like the simple dot eyes on snails, while others sparkle, like the circular eyes of owls with solid pupils and loopy lashes.
Ultman's compositions are spare and her lines are very clean, giving the posters a modern feel, and yet they also have a gently bold look, reminiscent of 1950s children's book art, especially that of illustrator Art Seidon, whose 123 board book sprang to mind when I first saw this collection. Her use of color and pattern also fits into the style of popular fabric designer Amy Butler, who shares Ultman's affinity for simple organic designs inspired by real life.
Following Chronicle's exciting release of 12 Eric Carle decorative prints in April, this latest collection is all you need to decorate a nursery. In fact, there are more than enough prints to go around a room so if you can stand to part with a few, consider giving them as baby shower gifts. Just slip them in ready-made frames and you'll be sure to elicit oohs and ahhs.