Beth Krommes: The Poetry of Lines
The old saying is that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but with such a renaissance in children’s picture books in the last twenty-five years, a cover may well be a primary incentive to choose one book over another. A cover illustration by Beth Krommes offers a compelling reason for children, and adults, to choose a book—and to open it, read it, and examine the pictures. Good illustrations like hers keep the young listener attentive, seeing the tale unfold visually while an older reader tells the story.
Since 1989, Krommes has been a freelance illustrator, creating wood engravings and her signature scratchboard drawings for magazines and picture books. Her latest book, The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2008, was awarded the 2009 Randolph Caldecott Medal for Best Illustrated Children’s Book. The artist’s other illustrated books are Grandmother Winter, by Phyllis Root (1999); The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (2001); The Hidden Folk, by Lise Lunge-Larsen (2004); and Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, by Joyce Sidman (2006), all published by Houghton Mifflin; and The Sun in Me: Poems About the Planet, compiled by Judith Nicholls and published by Barefoot Books (2003).
Krommes’s scratchboard drawings are replete with details and textures rendered in a rounded, simplified style. For example, in Grandmother Winter, Krommes transforms circles into snowflake and star designs that she likewise creates in The House in the Night and other books. Similarly, the expressive spirals and curved lines that imply wind, water, or spirit appear in all of Krommes’s picture books. The lacy blanket that Grandmother Winter shakes over the land to bring snow becomes, in The House in the Night, a dark cover drawn over the land by the “bird in the book.”
The illustrations in Krommes’s picture books begin as scratchboard drawings. On her website, www.bethkrommes.com, the artist describes her working method:
“Scratchboard … is a black-and-white drawing medium. The board itself … is a cardboard or panel with a thin veneer of fine, white clay covered by a layer of India ink … The drawing is made by scratching white lines through the ink with a sharp tool … The more lines that are drawn, the brighter the picture becomes … A scratchboard drawing is often very highly detailed and can resemble a wood engraving.
“… In order to add color to my scratchboard illustrations, I developed a technique of photocopying the scratchboard onto acid-free paper, mounting the paper onto a more stable board, and adding color with watercolor. This painting is the
original art I deliver to a publisher.”
Some of Krommes’s illustrations refer to the work of famous artists. The room depicted for the poem “Night Sky” in The Sun in Me pays homage to Vincent Van Gogh’s well-known painting The Artist’s Room at Arles (1889), and a representation of his Starry, Starry Night (1889) appears on the bedroom wall in The House in the Night. The geese and patchwork landscape in the dark area that illustrates “all about the starry dark” in the same book are reminiscent of M. C. Escher’s famous woodcut Day and Night (1938).
Beth Krommes was born in 1956 and grew up in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, knowing at a young age that she wanted to become an artist. She earned degrees in painting and art education at Syracuse University and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, respectively. Beth lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, with her husband and two daughters. Her mission as an artist is “to create art that is joyful in spirit, universal in nature, and that is accessible and affordable to others.”
—Susan Calabria, Curator