When Meilo So was creating the illustrations for the children's book Brush of the Gods, by Lenore Look, the central question guiding her artistic process was, as she puts it, “How to differentiate the artist's work and the illustrator's work?”
The book recounts the story of Wu Daozi, a masterful but relatively unknown Tang dynasty artist who traveled widely painting murals depicting Chinese flora and fauna. Meilo describes it as “lighthearted but with profound meaning throughout.” The way Lenore Look depicts Wu Daozi, she says, “he is almost like a mythical character with supernatural ability,” adding that it is “a hard task for an illustrator to illustrate the greatest artist.”
In charting her course for the project, Meilo says she thought carefully about the style she'd use for Wu Daozi's work. “He is mostly known for black line drawings, as derived from calligraphy, and I could not track down any color work by him.” She decided that all his paintings throughout the book would be “black line drawings, including his final masterpiece.”
This is the second book Meilo illustrated that chronicles the growth of a character from childhood to old age. (The first one was The Merchant Enticed by the Pearl of Great Price, by Mary Joslin.) “It is a difficult but fun thing to do,” she says. “I actually based Wu Douzi on my nephew. He is a lovely boy; I could imagine Daozi looked a bit like him.”
Rachael Cole, Art Director at Schwartz & Wade, which published Brush of the Gods,was thrilled with the results. “Meilo So's poetic—even magical—imagery, her calligraphic brushwork, and her considerable ability to articulate both fantasy and historical reality made her the perfect choice for this title,” she says.
Written by Eve Tolpa