In the colourful and poetic picture book Nature Is an Artist, by author Jennifer Lavallee and illustrator Natalia Colombo, readers can follow along as Nature shows a group of children how beautiful and artistic the natural world is.
“Nature Is an Artist likens five different art forms to things we see in nature – painting, sculpting, printmaking, collage, and stained glass art,” says Lavallee about the book.
Lavallee, who lives in St. Albert, Alberta, found inspiration in her love of nature, which was nurtured by her father. “He loves being outdoors and was always taking my sister and me to explore different landscapes and new places through Canada’s West,” she says.
Her appreciation of art, however, came from her mother. “On the artist side of things, there’s my mom. I’m pretty sure we tried our hand at every craft and art form you can think of.”
Now, as a mother of three, Lavallee finds herself re-experiencing aspects of her childhood through her children’s eyes. “My kids definitely helped me to see how a rainbow is like a stained glass or how the mountains are like a giant stone carving,” she says. These inspirations flow through the story of Nature Is an Artist, and pair perfectly with Colombo’s artwork.
Colombo’s illustrations were inspired by memories from childhood, when she says she “approached nature with all my curiosity and [felt] part of it.” She incorporated a dream component, enhancing the colours and playing with the size of the characters and scenery.
The character of Nature was inspired by “a fluffy cloud, friendly and restless, and that becomes one more piece of the landscape.”
Lavallee loves where Colombo’s imagination goes, in particular how she portrayed Nature literally carving a mountain. “I can just imagine that very thing happening to create the basalt columns – it’s fun to imagine nature being created that way.”
Both the author and illustrator have developed a profound appreciation for nature. Lavallee has travelled to some scenic places and has noticed how the art forms explored in the book can be compared to the “incredible beauty found in nature.”
On a trip to Hawaii with her very active children, the view from the Napali Coast took her breath away. “You couldn’t tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. Despite the chaos, everything just stopped for a moment; it was so beautiful, and I remember thinking, ‘This is like a painting made by Mother Nature.’”
Colombo, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, loves the moments of contemplation that come with spending time in nature. “I can feel my energies recharge, and I begin to discover characters in the leaves, the trees, the stones of the river – everything becomes a scene from a cartoon,” she says.
Illustrating books is Colombo’s “attempt to search for beauty within chaos” while inventing spaces and characters in colourful and dreamlike worlds.
“Maybe it is to illustrate childhood,” she says, “the look of when I was a child, and to be able to rediscover that essence and continue to use my imagination as a central axis.”
Such illustrations of childhood are key to developing young readers. Lavallee says, “Picture books are so special because they are the foundation of young kids’ first venture into the world of literacy and reading.”