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The Making of Picture Book Illustrations: What is Preseparated Art?

Looking Back



Preseparated art was laborious and time consuming to produce. While the technical requirements imposed restrictions on artists it could also provide a few advantages. Take this artwork from Aliki’s 1962 book My Hands.

My Hands 1962 printed pages (Click to Enlarge)

Printed pages (1962) - click to view

Instead of using process colors the artist has selected four specific colors of ink--red, orange, black, and yellow. Process color inks can be combined to create most colors but there are some hues, such as bright orange, that they cannot match. The brightness and vibrancy created by this preseparated art would have been lost if it had been printed using camera-separated art from a color original. The preseparations also create crisper, sharper lines than are possible in camera separated art.

 

By the late 1980s photography, scanning, and computer technology had advanced enough to make camera separated art as affordable as pre-separated art. At that point the few advantages it provided were outweighed by the considerable time and effort it required, and it was widely abandoned as a method for preparing art for children’s books. Artists can now work in any medium of their choice with little consideration of the printing process, but the legacy of pre-separated art remains.

 

My Hands 1990 printed pages (Click to Enlarge)

Printed pages (1990) - click to view

My Hands was reissued in 1990 with completely new artwork. Aliki took full advantage of the recent affordability of camera separated art to create full color illustrations that were in line with contemporary aesthetic standards.

 

Today, this artwork looks somewhat dated, and the older preseparated art is more in tune with modern graphic trends. For much of the twentieth century the appearance of illustrated children’s literature was the result of choices artists made to cope with the technical and economic restrictions imposed by preseparated art. These choices came to define an aesthetic associated with limited color palettes, simple geometric shapes, and bold, flat colors. The style and simplicity of this aesthetic has remained influential long after pre separated art became unnecessary and is often evoked by artists who are no longer bound by its limitations.

Paul Zelinsky and Ariane Dewey discuss the resurgent aesthetic style associated with pre-separated art

 

Many twenty-first century children's books reflect the influence of earlier pre-separated art.