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  • Writer's picturemelanie

My Love Affair with MidCentury Illustrators

Do you ever run off on a research tangent? I’m currently having a mini love affair with Finnish illustrator, Aleksander Lindeberg. (1917-2015) Recently I had a portfolio review with Lauren Rille, art director from Simon & Schuster and she was incredibly encouraging and supportive. She suggested I get a little looser with my painting style and start playing around with white space. In researching how that could play out in my work, I discovered Aleksander.

Trying to learn about him in English has not been easy. Most of the articles I have seen are either in Finnish or Russian, but I have found this blurb copied repeatedly in various blogs. This specifically in reference to his Alphabet book published in 1965.

“Aleksander Lindeberg was the son of Magnus Lindeberg, a doctor. The family fled the Russian revolution and sought to settle in Finland but Aleksander's father's qualifications were not accepted in Finland, so the family relocated again this time to Germany and then Estonia before finally being allowed to settle in Finland when his fathers qualifications were accepted and he could practice medicine. Aleksander studied art in Helsinki and Tallin and worked as a graphic designer in magazines. After the war, when standards of living rose, he worked as a commercial artist creating advertisements for cosmetics and clothing. In the 1960's he published his first children's book and was awarded the Rudolf Koivu Award in 1964.” 1)

I often see mid-century influences when I go to the bookstore but I think the style has many flavors. Aleksander’s use of flat, graphic shapes with plenty of texture is reminiscent of Mary Blair’s work.

I can fly spread on swing
"I Can Fly" Mary Blair's famous Little Golden Book published in 1951

It's interesting to note that much of the animation style today is mirroring midcentury illustration as well. This is a direct result of current animation show runners who were influenced by the UPA style of bold black lines with graphic shapes as a backdrop. This is directly borrowed from the midcentury illustration style that was in much of the advertisements of the day.

Midcentury Illustration can be characterized by the graphic shapes, and often in limited color palettes. Big bold, black line work was favored.

A great example of UPA's body of work is Gerald BcBoing Boing which was a story originally penned as a picture book by Dr. Suess and then adapted in animation in 1950.

Personally, I am still exploring how I want to borrow from midcentury mindset with my own work. What I love the most about Lindeberg's work is the limited pallets and how textural it is. The backgrounds are implied and the characters are center stage. His painting style doesn't use line work but relies on his color blocking and graphic shapes. While I love that look and I see it regularly at the book stores, I think part of what I love in my art ARE my lines, so I think in the future there will be exploration on how I can continue to incorporate them, but loosen up with my painting style overall.

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