If Picasso Painted a Snowman
Author: Amy Newbold
Illustrator: Greg Newbold
Published October 3rd, 2017 by Tilbury House Publishers
Summary: If someone asked you to paint a snowman, you would probably start with three white circles stacked one upon another. Then you would add black dots for eyes, an orange triangle for a nose, and a black dotted smile. But if Picasso painted a snowman…
From that simple premise flows this delightful, whimsical, educational picture book that shows how the artist’s imagination can summon magic from a prosaic subject. Greg Newbold’s chameleon-like artistry shows us Roy Lichtenstein’s snow hero saving the day, Georgia O’Keefe’s snowman blooming in the desert, Claude Monet’s snowmen among haystacks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic snowman, Jackson Pollock’s snowman in ten thousand splats, Salvador Dali’s snowmen dripping like melty cheese, and snowmen as they might have been rendered by J. M. W. Turner, Gustav Klimt, Paul Klee, Marc Chagall, Georges Seurat, Pablita Velarde, Piet Mondrian, Sonia Delaunay, Jacob Lawrence, and Vincent van Gogh. Our guide for this tour is a lively hamster who—also chameleon-like—sports a Dali mustache on one spread, a Van Gogh ear bandage on the next.
“What would your snowman look like?” the book asks, and then offers a page with a picture frame for a child to fill in. Backmatter thumbnail biographies of the artists complete this highly original tour of the creative imagination that will delight adults as well as children.
Review: Trent and I are really big fans of this one! It has become a regular bedtime book. Amy & Greg Newbold did a fantastic job teaching about art and artists while at the same time adding an entertainment factor through an imaginative and narrative aspect. Now, my experience reading this book for the first time is very different than Trent’s and other readers’ experiences will be like because of prior knowledge. Since I already knew the artists, I could pick out the style elements that were included in the snowman artwork, loved many of the snowmen because of how much it did look like the artists’ work, and even found aspects funny. Trent, on the other hand, read the book from a different lens because he saw all the snowmen first then we talked about each artist and using the back matter and internet, he learned about each of the artists.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: It would be so interesting to use the book in both ways: either with giving background knowledge ahead of time or introducing the book then the artists. And the book does such a wonderful job promoting creative freedom and sharing that each artist has their own style and medium which would lead to some really great opportunities for students to explore what their artistic style would be.
- [After studying an artist not in the book] How do you think ____ would paint/make/create a snowman?
- What parts of each artist’s style did the Newbolds utilize when creating If Picasso Painted a Snowman?
- Which snowman creation was your favorite? Why?
- After reading the back matter, which artist would you like to learn more about?
- Compare and contrast a “regular” snowman which each snowman in the book. Compare and contrast the different types of snowmen.
Author Interview: I was lucky enough to ask Amy & Greg interview questions. I chose to ask:
-How did you choose which artists to highlight in your book?
-How did you each prepare for writing the book?
-Any specific reason for the choice of a hamster?
-Other than art history, what do you hope readers get from the book?
Amy: I got the idea for If Picasso Painted a Snowman while visiting the Musee Picasso in Paris, France. Pablo Picasso’s work was so inventive, and I wondered what it would look like if he created a snowman. That was the beginning of the book. I knew right away certain artists that I wanted to include in the book, including Georges Seurat, Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, and Salvador Dali. In the beginning, I wanted to include all my favorite artists, but as the project took shape, it became more important for me to include artists who made a significant contribution to art. Greg and I discussed each artist, as he had to envision how to paint a snowman in the style of that painter. He brought in artists like Paul Klee and Roy Lichtenstein. It was a wonderful experience to research each of these artists and we both gained a deeper appreciation for their work.
The actual writing of the book took place over many months. Some of the lines in the book came easily, while others took quite a bit of time to figure out. I read the text out loud multiple times and made changes if the words weren’t flowing. Greg and I also participated in a workshop at a writing conference where we were able to get critiques on the book during the writing process. Testing out the manuscript in front of a group really helped. I didn’t write the biographies of each artist until we had signed our contract with Tilbury House to do the book. Once we had a contract, I got busy researching so I could write something that is hopefully informative and interesting about each of these amazing painters.
Greg: This project was so much fun that it often felt like playing rather than work. Before beginning a piece, I researched the artist’s style, the materials and techniques that they used and what motifs and design quirks made them unique. Each piece was a treat to work on and for the most part, I feel that I captured some of the essence of what each artist was known for. I learned many new processes but probably the most fun I had was imitating Jackson Pollock’s drip style “action paintings”. Some people look at Pollock’s work and assume that they could do it since all you have to do is splatter paint around. After more study I realized that Pollock’s work is far from random and unplanned. There is an interesting rhythm and process in the way he layered paint. I had a great afternoon in the back yard dancing around my canvas laid on the ground deciding where the next splash of paint would look the best and trying to put it there. My Pollock turned out pretty well and was also used as the endpapers of the book. I was so entertained by the process that I want to do it again.
I designed the hamster in honor of a family pet named Max. He is the visual tour guide through the book, and you can see evidence of him on nearly every page. His presence adds another dimension to the book as he does things like carry a ruler to get straight lines on the Mondrian piece. In another picture, he wears Picasso’s striped shirt, or Monet’s beret. The hamster is not in the text, but offers several fun references for readers in the know. Keep an eye out for him and his wardrobe changes throughout the book!
Amy & Greg: We both hope that this book encourages artists of all ages to have fun with art. It is simply an introduction, an invitation to try different techniques and styles, use unexpected colors, explore and distort shape and line. By looking at the variety of ways artists painted in history, we hope kids understand that they can find and express their own creative vision.
Read This If You Love: Art!; Biographies of artists such as The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock, Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone, A Splash of Red by Jennifer Fisher Bryant; The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds; Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Björk; Seen Art? by Jon Sciezska; The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt; Perfect Square by Michael Hall; My Pen by Christopher Myers, Paint Me a Picture by Emily Bannister, Mini Museum Series
**Thank you to Nicole Banholzer for providing a copy for review and to Amy & Greg Newbold for their answers!**