A new children’s book by Dutch illustrator Rop van Mierlo purposely uses vague and indistinct images to communicate possibility. In this kingdom, reality is less concrete than an adult might suggest and appearance far more creative.
First, I have to admit to the very personal nature of this article.
I am passionate about beautiful and unusual children’s books. So last week when I was in Antwerp and spotted an interesting new cover, my interest was piqued.
“Wild Animals” by Rop van Mierlo has everything I look for – stunning and mellifluous visuals ordered in a way that hint at a story, but with no actual text.
It reminds me of Bruno Munari’s “Zoo” albeit less graphic, which makes it great for a slightly older child. When I bought the book I didn’t realize that Van Mierlo is Dutch and a graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven. It was on the train ride back to Amsterdam that it all started to make sense so I called him up to find out more.
“It is interesting because three and four year olds understand images that are not overly distinct whereas adults don’t,” he says. “Their minds are so programmed about how things are supposed to look that they just can’t see beyond that expectation. Children just say what they see.”
The inspiration for the book came not from course work at the academy, but the art classes Van Mierlo sat through during his education at a Dutch Steiner school. “That type of school has a more sensitive approach,” he says. “We learnt to draw on wet paper so it was always about gradients and never straight or distinct lines. It was a really difficult technique and I never forgot about it, or that feeling of never quite knowing how an image would turn out. It is impossible to control.”
Van Mierlo honed that idea in his graduation project, “Bonsai and Poodles” - a book that explored humanity’s desire for control. For “Wild Animals” he stuck to his themes but introduced the techniques he favoured as a boy. “I wanted to create animals that I could not control,” he explains.
The animals included in the book were selected instinctively. “Humans take animals form across the globe and put them anywhere they like so I used the same approach,” he says. “I had a lot of pictures that I didn’t include.”
In Van Mierlo’s own words, “Wild Animals” is a wild book for civilized people. A sophisticated book for wild people. A beautiful book for wild animals for civilized people. A book with beautiful animals for wild people.
“Wild Animals” by Rop van Mierlo is available at select boutiques and via the author.
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